World Cup 2018: reaction after England's defeat to Croatia – as it happened

Jonathan Howcroft on 12 July 2018

Croatia 2-1 England (aet) fallout

With things winding down after the anguish of the morning after the night before, another blockbuster day of pride and pain rolled into one, here’s a longlist of some of the best reaction and writing around the end of the road for England in Russia:

We will back to go muse over all the goings-on from Russia and beyond from 5am (BST) tomorrow, with all the buildup to Sunday’s final, as well as a pulsating game between an England XI taking on another Belgium XI. Until then, thanks for your company! Bye.


What we need now is a change of voice, a fresh approach, a hint of hope. So I’m on my bike and Ben Fisher is taking over.

If the third-place playoff isn’t your thing, then perhaps you’d like to check out some matches where the stakes are truly high? Why not get yourself along to one of today’s Europa League ties, such as: Levadia Tallinn v Dundalk; KuPS v Copenhagen; or Lahti v Fimleikafélag Hafnarfjarðar. It’s on!

Has anyone been keeping count of the number of non-English journalists and players who have been lambasting English arrogance while pointing out that their own team is absolutely exceptional?

Here’s some more from Pogba:

“I want to win this World Cup and to do that, sacrifices must be made. Defending is not my strong point - I’m not N’Golo - but I do it with pleasure. We all have the same objective and we have to do what we have to do. I’ve grown up. And if I’ve grown up, it’s thanks to the squad and the coach. I gain maturity every day. Criticism, even if I don’t look at it, gets back to me and helps me progress.”

Let’s have no more players apologising for not winning.


“Pogba has had a ‘commanding tournament’?” sniffs Bourgy. “I dare say if he played the exact way under Mourinho he would be described as ‘largely anonymous’.” Well that’s almost the point: he hasn’t been trying to catch attention; he has streamlined his play to use his exceptional technique for the purposes of precision, not showmanship. He’s been helped by better midfielders that United have, in Matuidi and Kante. Admittedly, I’d still like to see more attacking from him, but that goes for Deschamps’ team in general.


Paul Pogba has been looking forward to Sunday’s World Cup final against Croatia and explaining the lessons his team have learned from their defeat in the Euro 2016 final (and, perhaps, from some English fans?):

“At the Euros we thought the bo was already done,” said the midfielder, who has had a commanding tournament. “When we beat Germany [in the semi-final, we thought that was the final. We told ourselves victory over Portugal was a foregone conclusion. That was our mistake. This time we are all concentrated. We don’t want to make the same error. We are going to go in search of the win.”

A big room to see and hear from Paul Pogba.
A big room to see and hear from Paul Pogba. Photograph: Franck Fife/AFP/Getty Images


Here’s today’s World Cup Fiver. I know Ben posted that a few minutes ago but I was faced with a choice of either giving you a quick repeat or telling you what West Ham/ Aston Villa ultra David Cameron thinks about a football team he recently heard of.

David Cameron has been tweetin .... actually, you don’t care what David Cameron has to say, do you?

And, after scoffing his face, Paul Doyle will return to guide you though the rest of the World Cup goings-on from Russia:


No matches today, of course, but there’s plenty going on elsewhere, another jam-packed schedule at Wimbledon, Tour de France and a blockbuster ODI between England v India:


ITV missed England trying to run in an equaliser, though, emails a cursing Colin McLean. Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard snuck upfield while Croatia were jumping over advertising hoardings and clattering photographers, deliriously celebrating Mandzukic’s winner but were soon halted. “Not sure if they turn around and stop because of ref’s whistle or they’re waiting for Kane to arrive and score for them,” he says.

The numbers: Croatia v England peaked at 26.6m viewers on ITV on Wednesday night, with the ratings making the crushing finale the most watched five minutes of television since the London 2012 Olympics closing ceremony. ITV had an audience share of 84% at peak, and the average of 24.3m viewers is the biggest ever football audience on a single channel. A big win for sports broadcasting and international football, too.

Fans tune in near Wembley.
Fans tune in near Wembley. Photograph: John Sibley/Action Images via Reuters


Southgate, you’re the one, sings Kyle Walker, singling out the England manager as the man who deserves the credit for transforming the fortunes of a team that had been pilloried after that harrowing defeat to Iceland only 24 months ago:

I was there in France, in the Iceland game, and it was completely different to that. For them to still be singing when we’re seeing friends and families, chanting our names and singing the manager’s name, is completely different. And I think we need to take full credit for that because we’ve changed that.


If you can, get the juices flowing for Sunday’s showpiece by delving into the back catalogue, including the last time France (feat. an enraged Zinedine Zidane) reached the final, in 2006:


After successfully blunting a weary Harry Kane, Dejan Lovren is feeling rather full of himself and has since touted himself as one of the world’s best defenders, alongside ‘Slab Head’, no doubt:

We showed that we deserved to be in the final and people should respect us. Sometimes, the criticism is unfair and people should respect me also. Without being arrogant I think I have [been proved to be one of the best defenders in the world]. Definitely.

But this criticism is what gets me more motivated to work harder and prove everyone wrong. Everyone. From today, everyone in Croatia and around the world saw we managed to make history. In 20 years’ time, people will remember us, and not just the team from 1998. That is why I am proud, and now we have one game to make people remember us forever.


Away from a stone-cold Roy Keane ... one of the – more surprising – faces of the World Cup has been Kelly Smith, the former Arsenal and England striker-turned-analyst:


Essential half-time lunchtime viewing, from Pique to Goleo:

How are we coping? Not good? Well, wait until you read a sobbing Kyle Walker’s soothing words of wisdom after England’s thudding semi-final exit. “I’m still heartbroken and never felt so gutted,” he said. “But there’s something I want to say. This past month, I’ve seen videos going around, photos been sent to me. That felt so good for us here in Russia, and united us more and more, just like it did in our country. We might live in a time where sometimes it’s easier to be negative than positive, or to divide than to unite, but England: let’s keep this unity alive. I love you.”

Trademark. Photograph: Anthony Dibon/Icon Sport via Getty Images


Right, I’m off to enjoy my rations. Ben Fisher will be your friend for the near future.

“England re unbelievably inferior” and “their arrogance hit them back”. Not my words, but those of Croatian journalists, whose reaction to their team’s historic victory is related here:

Here are some folks finding meaning the third-place playoff.

Oh, and Harry Kane. Another penalty should clinch the Golden Boot for him.

“I assume England and Belgium is the first time two sides have met at the same World Cup twice where both fixtures are meaningless in terms of qualification for the next stage of the World Cup?” toots Andrew Gladwin. “I know there have been instances before where a side met in the group stage and final, and there were also replays of drawn knockout matches, but this feels unique (and likely to remain for a long time). I know both fixtures are not totally meaningless (one determined order of qualification from the group, the other the Bronze Medal) but they are basically both games neither side was/will be gutted to lose.” Way to stoke the hype, Andrew! On that note, it’ll be interesting to see how many of his “first team” Southgate chooses to start with.

“I personally just hope the final is good,” announces Ruth Purdue. “But I know Deschamps will be himself and I fear what that will mean for the game.” Your fears are well-founded, Ruth. And you can blame Australia for that. Deschamps attempted to show a bit of derring-do in his selection for the first game but Aussie resistance was so strong - or, to put it another way, Ousmane Dembele and Corentin Tolisso were so ineffective - that Deschamps reverted to experience and solidity, bringing back Giroud and Matuidi. They will aim to suppress Croatia. Entertainment’s got nothing to do with it. That’s what the third-place playoff is for.

If you want to keep track of all the latest transfers, then here’s where you want to go:

Now that the World Cup is nearly over, perhaps you want to start getting excited about the forthcoming Premier League season? Fulham fans probably are probably doing just that today and here’s their guv’nor confirming another new signing.

“Did Croatia save the world cup?” wonders Robert Lowery. “While I have sympathy for both the ‘you can only beat what you are put up against’ and ‘teams grow in tournaments’ arguments, I look at the starting England 11 last night and say a pretty bang average upper mid-tier European side. The World Cup stands as one of very few competitions in field sports where outrageous fortune has , while deciding individual games, not been able to swing whole tournaments beyond the reaches of the handful of better sides coming into a tournament ( exception 1954 perhaps).....If England had done a Greece and won the thing, or even had a run to the final in the manner of a relegation threatened Premier League side getting to Wembley, what then for La Copa Mundiale as a true measure of quality? So yes, Croatia basically saved the World Cup.”

Speaking of ITV, have a gander at this. Observe, in particular, some of Keane’s subtle facial expressions: the hint of a grimace, the fleeting flash of a smirk, the unspoken threat of war till death.

ITV have announced that 26.6m watched England’s defeat to Croatia on their channel last night. Yes, well done. The question is, how many would have watched it on ITV if it had also been available elsewhere? I would have, for one, because the BBC has had a mostly dull tournament.


More from the Gareth Southgate is a Gentleman department:

Following up our discussion of Harry Kane’s tournament, Michael writes: “Certainly Harry Kane should have done better with that one chance he had last night, but the fact that that’s probably the only gaping miss we can point to (other than the scuffed header) speaks to England’s big problem throughout the tournament – a lack of creativity. Last night our inexperience and lack of creativity in the midfield came home to roost as we met a side which had both in abundance. Yes ,some of Kane’s goals may have been slightly fortuitous in this tournament but he still scored 6 of them and will probably go home with the Golden boot. I dread to think where we’d be without Kane. Especially in that Colombia game, his ruthlessness from the penalty spot and composure on the ball set the tone for that eventual victory. A fully fit or sharper Kane may have made the difference last night but ultimately if we’re to be successful we need to solve the underlying problem and find our own Luka Modric. At club level he has Dele and Eriksen. With England he’s forced to drop back and be his own Eriksen. If we had a player to fill that role, we can see more of Kane in the penalty box. However, it’s also worth pointing out that Kane’s hold-up and link-up play is a big and underrated part of his game and at certain stages in this tournament we’ve been glad to have him there, winning free kicks and holding the ball up.” So what you’re saying, in short, is what I already said? Except I never suggested Kane was not fully fit, and nor did Southgate.


All this talk of the Ballon d’Or, and nary a mention of a Fulham player. Time to right that wrong:

All that Ballon d’Or talk - OK, one comment - and nary a mention of Cristiano Ronaldo. So let’s stick up a piece about what his time at Real Madrid meant. No one better than Sid Lowe to sum it all up:

Lots of folks slagging off Lovren for his self-congratulation but, in fairness, the guy’s entitled to savour his moment after all the flak he received when playing badly. The best defender in the tournament so far has, of course, been Raphael Varane.

Advised to accentuate the positive, Latha Ramanathan has found an upside to England’s elimination: “At least the tennis players at Wimbledon will be relieved not having to answer ‘coming home’ questions!” she says with a chortle.


“Sorry to add a layer of nitpicking [see 9:36am], but there never officially was a country called ‘West Germany,” protests Christoper Mueller. “After the fall of the Wall, the territories that formed the Democratic Republic of Germany (East) were subsumed into the Federal Republic of Germany (West), so the footballing side we refer to as Germany has always technically represented the same country, albeit in an expanded version since 1990.”

Dejan Lovren spoke to BeIN Sports after the match last night and said: “I took Liverpool to the final of the Champions League. Now with my national team we are in the final. I think people should recognise that I am also one of the best defenders in the world and not just talk nonsense.” If they beat France on Sunday, it’s been Lovren and Modric for the Ballon d’Or, right?

Head coach Zlatko Dalic celebrates along Ivan Rakitic and Dejan Lovren.
Head coach Zlatko Dalic celebrates along Ivan Rakitic and Dejan Lovren. Photograph: Denis Tyrin/Tass


“On the subject of Croatia’s equaliser, Robert Speed complains about a high foot from Perisic,” notes Gary Bryne. “More of a low head from Walker methinks.” Agreed, but Walker had to go for it with his head.

“I wonder if Croatia should be counted as the 13th or 14th country in the final given that West Germany, like Czechoslovakia, no longer exists,” quibbles Darren Hall. That’s some pesky nitpicking! Is there such a thing as lucky 14th? Perhaps we’ll find out on Sunday.

“You said you were going to share your thoughts on Keane but you haven’t,” complains Brad Wilby. “Did you bottle it?” No, I just forgot like a no-good human. The thing about Keane is he’s no longer a hard man. By that I mean he has assigned himself an easy role, the denouncer of clear idiosyncrasies and imperfections rather than a provider of true insight. Having said that, his jousting with Ian Wright last night made for entertaining television - it’s just a pity they weren’t allowed to see it through to the end, which, I assume, would have been both men finding common ground, albeit on which to stage a fight.

More on that here:


“I think England’s performance in this tournament will be judged on what happens in the future,” declares Adrian Foster. “If we go back to getting beat in the second round or the quarter finals, it will be seen as the tournament where we were good at corners and got lucky in the draw. But if Gareth Southgate can use the goodwill from this tournament and turn it into regular semi-final and final appearances then this might be seen as the start of a change of culture for English football. There’s a lot of similarities between England now and Germany in 2006; success at youth level followed by better than expected performance at senior level. And remember the Semi finals and final of Euro 2020 is at Wembley. Having said all that we really, really missed Adam Lallana last night.” Phew! Thought for a minute you were going to grumble about Southgate not taking Jack Wilshere.

Here are some headlines from the Croatian press this morning, brought to you in association with an online translation gizmo:

Jutarnji list: “The fiery miracle!” “Croatia is in the final! Celebrate guys, you deserve it. Is this a dream? We’re in the final: weep, hug, celebrate.”

Slobodna Dalmacija: “Wonderful, incredible Croatia! Brave, combative and fiery, Croatia is writing football history, the ‘lucky’ 13th World Cup finalist, as the second-smallest country.”

Yes, only 13 countries have ever been to a World Cup final and one of them (Czechoslovakia) no longer exists. The smallest, of course, is Uruguay, world champions in 1930 and 1950. It’s nice, in a way, to have a someone new in there this time, isn’t it? Gives inspiration to so many others.

Who wants to talk about Harry Kane? When England face Belgium in Saturday’s third-place playoff, he will be hoping to preserve his two-goal lead over Romelu Lukaku at the top of the scoring charts. But even if he were to return with the Golden Boot, did he have a good tournament? Better than two years ago, sure, but really good? His six goals so far include two fine predatory strikes in the first game, three penalties and an unwitting deflection. Which is not to say he fluffed lots of other chances - he patently didn’t, apart from a couple against Croatia. He spent most of the tournament with his back to goal and away from the danger zone, sometimes holding the ball up, winning freekicks or making inconsequential passes in his own half. But was that his fault or the blame of the midfielders?

Harry Kane during the semi-final against Croatia.
Harry Kane during the semi-final against Croatia. Photograph: Peter Powell/EPA


Here’s an interesting question:

“As an Australian who’s been blasting It’s Coming Home and World in Motion (the superior English footballing anthem) non-stop for the past two weeks, I feel like the ICH phenomenon is a very British (and by extension Australian, Kiwi, etc) phenomenon of taking the mickey out of yourself before everyone else can,” explains Marco Jeffrey. “If any English supporter showed any earnest belief that England were any good to a non-English football fan, they’d be endlessly derided for any result bar a 3-0 final victory. However, the extremity and almost absurd surety of ICH disguises said earnest belief in enough self-deprecation you can get away with it - and could have all the way to the final.”

Hello. Doyle here. Thanks to Jonathan for his work before me. And to Paul Fitzgerald for sending an email that you can read while I’m finishing my morning push-ups Sugar Puffs. “The real challenge going forward is to find a rational medium to expectation,” begins Fitzgerald. “It’s either overachieving glory or unbefitting failure. England aren’t allowed to be decent. Seems like a lack of a scapegoat is a 22year anomaly.” I thought folks have been pretty balanced, all things considered. Which brings us on to Roy Keane, whom we shall discuss momentarily.

Right, that’s enough from me for now. I’ll pass the baton to Paul Doyle who will be with you shortly. As always, thanks for your company.

“Was last night as disappointing as 1990 and 1996?"

My ranking of England tournament disappointment in my lifetime, from worst to meh:

1996 - urgh....
1990 - great side, Gazza the talisman, good enough to win it, lost cruelly.
2004 - great side, Rooney the talisman, ditto.
1998 - probably England's best side, Scholes, Owen, Shearer, rock solid defence. Sol Campbell denied a clear winner.
2002 - effing Ronaldinho
1986 - effing Maradona.

2010,2016 we were just rubbish.

And here are David’s five reasons why France have made it to the biggest game in the world.


Croatia’s opponents in the World Cup final are France, and David Hytner has been following the progress of Les Bleus and the heavily scrutinised Paul Pogba.

Pogba, like Deschamps and some of the squad, is fired by the pain of Euro 2016. When the captain, Hugo Lloris, addressed the press after the Belgium game, the defeat in the final against Portugal two years ago was the first thing he brought up. Lloris and Pogba had started that match, and so did Samuel Umtiti, Matuidi, Antoine Griezmann and Olivier Giroud.

Ah player ratings, the most thankless of tasks. Stuart James drew the short straw last night and his eye was caught by the work of Ivan Perisic and Harry Maguire.

On a similar theme, I’m sure we’ll end up with an unlikely team of the tournament as well.

Hopefully Luca Modric will win the Ballon D'Or this year. Central to Madrid's Champions League victory and treble, and now taking Croatia into a first World Cup Final. Trumps anything Messi or Ronado have done this year.

It’ll be a fascinating year for the individual awards, starting with this World Cup golden ball which feels like a free-for-all.


“I’m a bit surprised so little has been made of Croatia’s equalising goal,” emails Robert Speed. “That was text book dangerous play by Perisic, which is a foul. Anywhere else on the field it probably would have been called that. So I wonder if the ref bottled it when the ball went in and thought the easier course of action was to allow the goal to stand. It is the type of thing that could be overturned following VAR, so blame must also be apportioned to the VAR ref – I do wonder what the ref would have made of it on review. I think it was a clear and obvious error. And I was hoping England would lose!”

Yes, it definitely falls into the category marked “you’ve seen them given”. I expected more to be made of it at the time, but I thought the final decision was in keeping with a match that was allowed to flow, and as you point out, VAR was on hand to provide a second opinion.

Ivan Perisic equalises for Croatia with a contentiously high boot.
Ivan Perisic equalises for Croatia with a contentiously high boot. Photograph: Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Images

“So much of the game is mental,” emails Craig Allan. “England in the end looked bereft of that extra mile required: the street smarts, the pulling of strings and setting of rhythm from the midfield, the ability to literally put your soul and body on the line. What’s worse is... I’m not sure whether that is ever going to materialise? Where is that pure uncut collective bastardy going to come from? In the end England looked like a somewhat naive and callow facsimile of a good football team against the unrelenting tenacity and passion of Croatia.”

Maybe serial winners (and shithousers par excellence) like Sergio Ramos or Pepe could open a finishing school at St George’s Park? Or, as per plenty of correspondence, we might see more young English players encouraged to ply their trade overseas and develop the game management skills that Croatia displayed so successfully last night.

I told you someone smarter than me would explain the ICH stuff better than I could.

Barney Ronay captures the mood in inimitable style.

Above all, this has been a dreamy, all-consuming piece of escapism. In tough times back home football has felt like a warm embrace, like a rush of chemical pleasure, like the best night out you’ve had in ages.

Victor Rushton has emailed in a good question about comparative semi-final disappointment. “Was last night as disappointing as 1990 and 1996? My view is nowhere near. On both those occasions we matched the best team in the competition and went out in the cruelest way. France would also have probably beaten us in the final. However, you would have fancied us against both Argentina and the Czechs on those occasions.”

An email from Stephen Suttie: “Writing from Australia here and saw comments about how the English don’t think they are bias or disrespectful to Croatia or others. Didn’t you start singing “It’s coming home” before the quarter finals? Do you not think that song is a bit arrogant to sing when you have three more games to go before “it comes home”? If the Australian cricket team says before the World Cup next year that they are bringing the cup home, or says before the Ashes that they are bringing the Ashes home, the English press will be right up them.”

I think there has been something lost in translation with the whole ICH shtick. For me (and I presumed many in England) the majority of the “It’s Coming Home” exercise was tongue in cheek and harmless. The successful memes contained the likes of Alan Partridge and Del Boy and seemed knowingly self-aware and as much a celebration about England not being rubbish as an actual belief in footballing superiority. Moreover, it just happens to be the song that captured a nation 22 years ago and remains easily shoutable when drunk. I’m sure people smarter than me will write more fulsome explanations that I can link to in the coming days.

Kate Lyons has collated plenty of reasons for England fans to be cheerful despite their World Cup dream ending against Croatia.

On the subject of Croatian celebrations, Mexican photographer Yuri Cortez got more than he bargained for after Mario Mandzukic’s winner. Despite a few bumps and bruises he ended up with the shots of a lifetime.

Is the Guardian going to write a piece about "the heroes" trying to score while Croatia was celebrating??

Yeah, it was a bit odd wasn’t it? Especially after the idea a team could kick-off while their opponents were still celebrating was debunked during the group phase. Maybe they just did it for the meme value?

Zagreb is going to be rocking for the next few days.

At the final whistle much of the city’s population not already in the streets emptied out of their houses and apartment blocks into a rolling party. They hung out of car windows and sun roofs waving flags while the drivers leaned on their horns. The tram drivers draped Croatia team shirts on their grills and edged their way through the delirious traffic jams.

Here’s the full piece containing Modric’s post-match comments, and further reaction from the Croatian camp.

“Bronze is coming home, it’s coming home, it’s coming home...”

We got to the semi-final with a new manager who was mocked when appointed, with an inexperienced squad lacking quality in particular positions, certain players out of position, and an unfamiliar formation.

Overall we massively over achieved.

Next challenge is for Southgate to build on this and it may mean him being a bit ruthless.

Walker has done ok as a CB but it's not really his game. Does Southgate stick with him there? Young had a decent tournament but it's probably his last one. Most important is to sort out the midfield. Alli and Lingard want to support attacks and will track back but they can't control a game.

So lots of positives, but room for improvement.

I’m on board with most of this. It will be interesting to see how Southgate approaches things from hereon. Was this World Cup the start of a grand project or was he making the best with what was available?

This is Dominic Fifield’s take from inside the Luzhniki Stadium on England’s lack of cutting edge.

This, actually, was a far more conventional elimination. Gareth Southgate’s side may have composed some of their most fluent football of the tournament through the opening half here but it was a lack of ruthlessness in that same period of ascendancy which in effect did for England’s hopes of a first appearance at a World Cup final in 52 years. That combined, of course, with Croatia’s cannier game management as they sensed they had been let off the hook. This was an education, one imposed by Perisic’s dynamism, the subtle promptings of Luka Modric whose influence would not be subdued, and arguably Mario Mandzukic’s single yet utterly decisive contribution all night.

More reaction from the England camp, this time from social media.

This is currently the most recommended comment below the line.

Luka Modric has accused English journalists and pundits of showing a lack of respect to Croatia’s players and admitted his teammates had used criticism to motivate them to victory against England in their World Cup semi-final.

That's why all the neutrals in the world always support English opponents, including in the Champions League. English pundits can be quite nauseating indeed. The players not so I must add.

Maybe I missed something, but can anybody point out the lack of respect shown to Croatia before the game? Happy to be proven wrong but all I was aware of was the pretty sensible idea that some players might be a bit fatigued after consecutive penalty shootouts. Normally this was followed by an acknowledgement that Luka Modric would be the best player on the pitch. It all seems a bit straw man and unnecessary.

Despite the defeat Gareth Southgate was proud of what his team had accomplished.

I’m conscious we’ve just lost a massive, massive game and I don’t want to be seen to be moving on too quickly. We shouldn’t overlook the opportunity we had and, at the moment, we all feel the pain of the defeat. Did we feel we would be in this position? Realistically, I don’t think any of us did. Go back 18 months and no one would have expected us to be in a semi-final of the World Cup.

Martha Kelner relays the reaction from Moscow and reflects on the transformational PR emanating from England’s run to the semi-finals.

There was a sense among the supporters that this result does not change the fondness most feel for the manager and the team. A core of around 1,500 England fans have been at all six games. From the historic city of Volgograd, formerly Stalingrad, where England beat Tunisia courtesy of a stoppage time header by Harry Kane. To Nizhny Novgorod, where the rivers Volga and Oka meet and England notched their biggest ever win, beating Panama 6-1. To the outpost of Kaliningrad where England’s second string were beaten by Belgium’s in what was effectively a meaningless match. To Moscow for the first knockout round game and England’s only World Cup penalty shootout victory to defeat Colombia. Then they breezed past Sweden in the sticky heat of Samara in the South.

Peter, AKA Sancho Montreal, has emailed his thoughts.

“So what is different about the “new England”? 1. They over-achieved, for sure, because they didn’t have a very good team. 2. They actually won a match on penalties. 3. Until today they were better mentally, than they have been since about 1970. But they had such a great opportunity to get to the final that may never come around again: which they “blew.” They lost to a team who are six places below them in the FIFA rankings; who were absolutely knackered after two overtime games. Croatia were so much more mature, smarter, and better on the ball than England. What is not “new”but “as usual”: when England meet a half-decent team they either go to penalties (Colombia) or lose (Croatia & Belgium). I do have some hope for the future, but, the better English Premier League teams have to bring those young players through their ranks.”

Couple of points in there worth pulling out. Firstly, the maturity and smartness of Croatia. There is nobody in England’s squad to compare to Luka Modric, someone who could dictate the tempo and settle things down when the game was starting to drift away. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest if he swapped teams the outcome would have been different.

Secondly, we know there are some exciting young players coming through who are trophy winners at age-group level, but as Peter points out, they need exposure. Can the bigger Premier League teams somehow be incentivised to make squad decisions that ultimately benefit the national team?

It all started so promisingly.

Jacob Steinberg has waded into the Keane v Wright debate. It’s a tweet that highlights the opposing ways this World Cup is destined to be appraised.

As far as visual metaphors go, this is brutal.

A Swedish counterpoint to not caring about the third-place playoff:

nobody caring about game for bronze? you bloody should. us swedes got bronze in 1994 and i'll tell you after getting over losing the semifinal (against a cheeky romario toe poke, one nil only and we should have won of course!) we wont for it big time in bronze game and let me tell you it felt like we won the whole thing. bus parades and the whole country positive for months on the back of that. and i think england could do with that togetherness now in the midst of brexit dividing the country

Daniel Taylor was in Moscow and he filed this report after the final whistle.

Those players will look back eventually on a tournament that has shifted England’s reputation for leaden football and tournament neuroticism. All the same, it may take some time to shake off the ordeal of losing this semifinal, the knowledge that the World Cup may never open up so obligingly again and the additional trauma from the fact that, for a long while, Gareth Southgate’s team had led us to believe they could do it. They really did.

David Lyons has is in early on the email, and I fear he might not be the cheeriest workmate today.

“It has all been a veneer, that England’s football team had grown into the type of mould that could win a World Cup in 2018. To do so takes real class, honed over decades of passing and technique allied to a quick mind on and off the ball, the latter is all to do with the reading of the game.

Alli and Lingard were cruelly exposed at the top or near the top level, France and Belgium are the top level, they were toothless in the England midfield, outclassed by Croatians who choose to ply their trade in Serie A and La Liga rather than the Premier League. Kane dropped ever deeper against Colombia and did so last night, to the detriment of his personal game, so crucial to the side.

Winning by headers from free kicks and corners and from penalties is not winning by scoring with outstanding passing play in open play. Stones is an accident waiting to happen all the time, at City and for England. A hype player who is not really flourishing under Guardiola into a world class centre back. Sterling can run and flick passes but he cannot shoot for toffee.”

I’m not sure I agree with all of those sentiments but the idea of English players benefiting from moving abroad is definitely one that i think needs revisiting. Considering the core of this group is reasonably young and the next generation coming through is as exciting as any crop in recent times, exposure in different leagues may be the missing piece in the jigsaw.

Hope Southgate picks the entire reserve team for the Belgium game, and even changes keeper at half-time. Give everyone a game I say.

Ah yes, the World Cup third-place playoff, how could we forget that? Surely you’re right Steve, and for the second time this tournament we’ll witness England’s reserves taking on Belgium’s reserves in a match neither side is overly fussed about winning.

Let’s begin with the pod. This is the one where Max leaves longer pauses than usual between links (during which you just hope someone’s giving him a big hug) and Barry reveals he has been gifted a stockpile of honey to rival Winnie the Pooh’s.

Preamble (it's not coming home)

So there we have it, football isn’t coming home after all, not yet anyway. For all the positivity and goodwill of the past month England fans will wake up nursing familiar hangovers on Thursday, contemplating what might have been following another narrow loss in the knockout stages of a major tournament.

Reaction already seems to have split into two camps. The first, continuing the positive narrative of England’s World Cup run, praises Gareth Southgate’s rebranding exercise and looks ahead optimistically to the great things his young group could accomplish. The second (perhaps we can call them the Keaneistas) recognises that England lacked the ruthlessness to capitalise on a dream draw and all the warmth and fuzziness in the world is no substitute for actually winning.

This will all be unpacked as the day unfolds. There will be no shortage of opinion, that’s for sure.

Credit must also be paid to Croatia and their incredible achievement. And we’ll look ahead to their first World Cup final and their opponents France.

As always, please feel free to vent, to gloat, to celebrate what was and wonder what might have been (just keep it civil if you want it published). Emails to tweets to @JPHowcroft and the comments section should be open as we go.

It’s not coming home, but here’s another Lightning Seeds crowd pleaser to perk you up. Sit back, think of Match of the Day’s goal of the month, and enjoy the finest highlights package cum music video in the world.


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