ENGLAND WORLD CUP HEARTBREAK: It was, on paper, to be the best opportunity for England to reach the World Cup Final and bury the ghost of 1966 once and for all

Wednesday 11th July 2018

IT proved to be another painful night for England as they suffered another heartbreaking World Cup Semi-Final defeat tonight.

The entire country left work early to watch the game in front of their television sets at home or in pubs, parks and football club’s up and down the country but Gareth Southgate’s young Lions fell short against a quality Croatia outfit.

The dream of football coming home was on when defender Kieran Trippier’s sublime free-kick sailed into the top right-hand corner to give Southgate’s bravehearts a fifth minute lead.  What a way to score your maiden England goal!

The Three Lions missed a couple more glorious chances in a brilliant first half performance when Harry Kane struck the near post from a tight angle and Jesse Lingard should have buried a chance when the ball fell to him in space on the edge of the Croatian penalty area.

Hope turned to despair as Croatia bounced off the ropes to boss the second half and it was only a matter of time when England’s hopes were crushed as Croatia deservedly levelled when Ivan Perisic stabbed the ball past the diving Kyle Walker and Jordan Pickford with 68 minutes on the clock.

Admit it, Croatia deserved it. They were better than us after half-time.

England held on and survived to take the game into extra-time.  Deep down we knew what was coming. This time it wasn’t a penalty shoot-out that was going to break our hearts but a preventable 109th minute strike.

Croatia slotted home their deserved winner through Mario Mandzukic from six-yards but it was the same old story for England at a major tournament – heartbreak, tears and despair.

Southgate’s young Lions have ensured we have fallen back in love with the national team again. They gave everyone some happy memories, a record 6-1 World Cup win over Panama and beating Colombia on penalties, yes 4-3 on penalties, when a country is on its knees but tonight still hurts and this will hurt for a long time.

The FA need to take this on board and learn.  More home-grown players, coaches, managers and owners to be involved in the top-flight to ensure Southgate has more than 30% of players to select for the national team.

Fans fell back in love with their national team simply because the players’ have worked their way up from the lower leagues of England and gave it their all. We’ve got our England back after the Golden Generation failed to deliver year-after-year.

But when they came up against the likes of Belgium and Croatia, England just fell short by one agonising goal in each game during this enjoyable tournament.

Proud yes. Massively gutted and disappointed.  Should a nation as big as England, the founder of the beautiful game, be content with reaching a Semi-Final of the World Cup?

It was, on paper, to be the best opportunity for England to reach the World Cup Final and bury the ghost of 1966 once and for all.

England were in the so-called easier side of the draw to avoid all the big guns but the so-called big guns, the Brazil’s, the Germany’s, the Argentina’s, the Spain’s, the Portugal’s fell by the wayside and this was England’s best chance to reach the World Cup Final since Italia 90.

Saturday’s third-fourth play-off dead rubber against Belgium’s Golden Generation means nothing now.  Sunday’s final between France and Croatia means nothing.  Life will get back to normal. Footballers will report back to pre-season training, games will take place as we prepare for the new season in August. 

Too many years of hurt. Let’s change things for the better so football does finally come home, starting with the European Championships in two years’ time. At least Iceland didn’t beat us this time!

Southgate, speaking to ITV, said: "First half we were really good and we had chances. We lost our way a bit after their goal. Possibly at that moment we were hanging on a bit rather than trying to control the game.

"We got the control back in extra time and showed composure. Knockout football is fine margins.

"When you have spells in a game against a quality side you have to make them count. We needed a second goal.

"I think we were looking at how we might stem the tide but there weren't clear changes we could make to change it. We just needed to show more composure. We stopped playing for a period of 20 minutes in the second half.

“By the end several players were out on their feet and we were down to 10. The reaction from the fans at the end shows you everything they’ve given.

"We’ve come an incredibly long way in a short space of time. The whole thing is beyond where we thought we might go. Tonight we weren’t quite there. But the team will be stronger for it.

"As we reflect, there will be positives but it’s difficult tonight. We were so close to what was unimaginable at the start.

"We’ve left everything out there. We’ll look at the goals and chances but I don’t think we could have given more over these six or seven weeks.

“It's a very difficult situation to be in. We, as a team, have made incredible progress and probably got to a stage where at the start of the tournament we would have considered a success. But we really believed we could go another stage.

"The way we have played with composure in big matches pleases me. For a period in the second half we didn't keep the ball well, we went longer and invited pressure, we hadn't done that all tournament.

"But full credit to Croatia, they have come through three huge ties and have outstanding individual players."