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England’s World Cup dream dashed as Croatia win semi-final in extra-time England’s World Cup dream dashed as Croatia win semi-final in extra time
(35 minutes later)
It was like watching a beautiful painting being ripped up in front of your eyes. England’s dream of making it to their first World Cup final for more than a quarter of a century was over and in those desolate moments after the final whistle, as the losing players wandered aimlessly around the pitch, almost zombie-like in their trance, it was impossible not to wonder whether there will be a lifetime of regret.It was like watching a beautiful painting being ripped up in front of your eyes. England’s dream of making it to their first World Cup final for more than a quarter of a century was over and in those desolate moments after the final whistle, as the losing players wandered aimlessly around the pitch, almost zombie-like in their trance, it was impossible not to wonder whether there will be a lifetime of regret.
Those players will look back eventually on a tournament that has helped to shift England’s reputation for leaden football and tournament neurosis. All the same, it might some take time to get over the ordeal of surrendering an early lead to see everything unravel in the second half and, finally, extra time. England had fallen short and, at this stage of the competition, the disappointment will be tremendous when the World Cup had opened up with so many possibilities.Those players will look back eventually on a tournament that has helped to shift England’s reputation for leaden football and tournament neurosis. All the same, it might some take time to get over the ordeal of surrendering an early lead to see everything unravel in the second half and, finally, extra time. England had fallen short and, at this stage of the competition, the disappointment will be tremendous when the World Cup had opened up with so many possibilities.
Instead, it will be Croatia who return to the Luzhniki Stadium on Sunday to face France in the final and, on this evidence, they might yet have the competitive courage to complete their own dreams. The decisive moment here came in the 109th minute from a striker, Mario Mandzukic, who was carrying an injury and that in itself summed up the immense personality of this team. England will go into a third-versus-fourth sideshow against Belgium the previous day and, just like 1990, they would desperately wish they were not there.Instead, it will be Croatia who return to the Luzhniki Stadium on Sunday to face France in the final and, on this evidence, they might yet have the competitive courage to complete their own dreams. The decisive moment here came in the 109th minute from a striker, Mario Mandzukic, who was carrying an injury and that in itself summed up the immense personality of this team. England will go into a third-versus-fourth sideshow against Belgium the previous day and, just like 1990, they would desperately wish they were not there.
At the very least, Gareth Southgate and his players have helped to redefine the way the England team is perceived around the world. New heroes have emerged, with a new respect and a new outlook. To see the England fans serenading the team, decorating this vast stadium with their St George’s flags and holding the players in such esteem, made it feel a trick of the imagination that the same team was straying dangerously close to a full‑on mutiny not even a year ago. Moscow 2018 certainly felt a long way from Malta, 2017, with its mass walkout and protest songs and theme of unpleasantness. Was that really only 10 months ago? At the very least, Gareth Southgate and his players have helped to redefine the way the England team is perceived around the world. New heroes have emerged, with a new respect and a new outlook. To see the England fans serenading the team, decorating this vast stadium with their St George’s flags and holding the players in such esteem, made it feel a trick of the imagination that the same team was straying dangerously close to a full‑on mutiny not even a year ago. Moscow 2018 certainly felt a long way from Malta, 2017, with its mass walkout and protest songs and theme of unpleasantness. Was that really only 10 months ago?
This England feels different: a band of brothers, so assured and comfortable in their own skin. This England bends it like Kieran Trippier. This England still has a big guy at the back who makes it his business, in Southgate’s words, to “get his bonce on everything” in either penalty area, But the new-look England, in their now-familiar 3-3-2-2 system, does many things well and is growing in confidence in front of our eyes. This England feels different: a band of brothers, so assured and comfortable in their own skin. This England bends it like Kieran Trippier. This England still has a big guy at the back who makes it his business, in Southgate’s words, to “get his bonce on everything” in either penalty area, But the new-look England, in their now-familiar 3-3-2-2 system, does many things well and is growing in confidence in front of our eyes.
You want an example? Just consider the moment, early on, when Dele Alli nudged the ball one side of Dejan Lovren then slipped around him the other way to reach it first. Again, we saw the hard evidence that John Stones is now the central defender English football always wanted him to be – at least until Mandzukic’s extra-time strike. Alli kept to his promise of playing better than he had against Sweden. Harry Maguire was outstanding. Jordan Henderson produced another high-calibre performance, as he has throughout this tournament, and collectively England worked so hard trying to quell the influence of Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic.You want an example? Just consider the moment, early on, when Dele Alli nudged the ball one side of Dejan Lovren then slipped around him the other way to reach it first. Again, we saw the hard evidence that John Stones is now the central defender English football always wanted him to be – at least until Mandzukic’s extra-time strike. Alli kept to his promise of playing better than he had against Sweden. Harry Maguire was outstanding. Jordan Henderson produced another high-calibre performance, as he has throughout this tournament, and collectively England worked so hard trying to quell the influence of Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic.
As for Trippier, presumably he will be made an honorary citizen of Ramsbottom when he returns as one of the authentic stars of the tournament. Trippier chose a good night to score his first England goal and it was a peach of a free-kick, even if Danijel Subasic, Croatia’s goalkeeper, seemed to get his bearings wrong.As for Trippier, presumably he will be made an honorary citizen of Ramsbottom when he returns as one of the authentic stars of the tournament. Trippier chose a good night to score his first England goal and it was a peach of a free-kick, even if Danijel Subasic, Croatia’s goalkeeper, seemed to get his bearings wrong.
Croatia had six players in their defensive wall after the foul, 20 yards out, from Modric on Alli. Trippier aimed it over two of the biggest men, Lovren and Mandzucic, and applied just the right blend of curl and dip for the ball to arc beneath the crossbar. Trippier’s victory run took him to the touchline, pursued by his teammates, and if there was any tension in the England camp the goal came early enough to soothe their nerves.Croatia had six players in their defensive wall after the foul, 20 yards out, from Modric on Alli. Trippier aimed it over two of the biggest men, Lovren and Mandzucic, and applied just the right blend of curl and dip for the ball to arc beneath the crossbar. Trippier’s victory run took him to the touchline, pursued by his teammates, and if there was any tension in the England camp the goal came early enough to soothe their nerves.
They might also reflect they should have been further ahead by half‑time if Harry Kane, set up by Jesse Lingard, had been able to beat Subasic from close range. The linesman’s offside flag was a mistake and, though it is difficult to know sometimes with VAR, there has to be a reasonable chance the goal would have been given had it not been for Subasic flicking out a boot to divert Kane’s follow-up effort against the post. They might also reflect they should have been further ahead by half‑time if Harry Kane, set up by Jesse Lingard, had been able to beat Subasic from close range. The linesman’s offside flag was a mistake and, though it is difficult to know sometimes with VAR, there has to be a reasonable chance the goal would have been given had it not been for Subasic flicking out a boot to divert Kane’s follow-up effort against the post.
Croatia’s players left the pitch at half-time arguing that Maguire should have been penalised for some penalty-box grappling. There was no way Zlatko Dalic’s team would go out without putting up some form of resistance and it was inevitable they would start committing more men forward in the second half.Croatia’s players left the pitch at half-time arguing that Maguire should have been penalised for some penalty-box grappling. There was no way Zlatko Dalic’s team would go out without putting up some form of resistance and it was inevitable they would start committing more men forward in the second half.
It was not until the hour, however, that England were subjected to the first concerted spell of pressure. Kyle Walker blocked one shot with the part of his body where no man wants to be struck. But England were starting to look vulnerable for the first time and Southgate must have desperately wished Lingard and Raheem Sterling could have taken one of the opportunities that came their way earlier in the match.It was not until the hour, however, that England were subjected to the first concerted spell of pressure. Kyle Walker blocked one shot with the part of his body where no man wants to be struck. But England were starting to look vulnerable for the first time and Southgate must have desperately wished Lingard and Raheem Sterling could have taken one of the opportunities that came their way earlier in the match.
Midway through the second half, the right-back Sime Vrsaljko sent over a deep cross from the right. For once, it eluded Maguire and Ivan Perisic showed great commitment to get there ahead of Trippier and Walker. Perisic had to improvise, twisting his body mid-air and jabbing out his left boot, sideways on, to turn the ball past Jordan Pickford with a clever volley.Midway through the second half, the right-back Sime Vrsaljko sent over a deep cross from the right. For once, it eluded Maguire and Ivan Perisic showed great commitment to get there ahead of Trippier and Walker. Perisic had to improvise, twisting his body mid-air and jabbing out his left boot, sideways on, to turn the ball past Jordan Pickford with a clever volley.
After that, it must have been startling for Southgate to see the way the game turned in Croatia’s favour. Soon afterwards, Perisic struck the post with a low, diagonal shot and Ante Rebic ought to have done better with the rebound. It was not an onslaught, but it was not far off and Croatia must have felt they had enough of the ball in dangerous areas to complete the recovery before the end of normal time. Yet Stones saw a goalbound header cleared off the line in extra time before the killer moment when he lost Mandzucic and the forward struck the decisive blow. After that, it must have been startling for Southgate to see the way the game turned in Croatia’s favour. Soon afterwards, Perisic struck the post with a low, diagonal shot and Ante Rebic ought to have done better with the rebound. It was not an onslaught, but it was not far off and Croatia must have felt they had enough of the ball in dangerous areas to complete the recovery before the end of normal time. Yet Stones saw a goalbound header cleared off the line in extra time before the killer moment when he lost Mandzucic and the forward struck the decisive blow.
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