In Depth

It’s not coming home: reaction to England’s World Cup heartbreak

Dream is over following defeat to Croatia but there are positives to take from Three Lions’ run to the semi-finals

Croatia 2 England 1 (after extra-time)

Gareth Southgate’s gallant England side have been hailed for their efforts in Russia despite a heartbreaking defeat to Croatia in the semi-final of the World Cup last night.

England, aiming for a first World Cup final since 1966, took an early lead against Croatia thanks to Kieran Trippier’s free kick, but despite dominating the first half, they unravelled in the second.

Ivan Perisic equalised for Croatia after 70 minutes to force extra-time, and a goal from Mario Mandzukic at 109 minutes ended the Three Lions’ hopes.

“England had history in their hands and a first World Cup final since 1966 in their sights as the clock ticked past 10pm in Moscow - only to let it all slip away and so leave this historic city with familiar feelings of despair and disappointment,” laments Phil McNulty of the BBC.

“The years of hurt will go on - and for all the optimism raised by England’s deeds in Russia over the last month, there will be a burning sense of missed opportunity that will take a long time to erase.”

But after an uplifting campaign, we should reflect on the positives, says The Guardian’s Barney Ronay. 

“Leave the flags out,” he writes. “Have another glass. Take another look, if you can, at those moments from Kaliningrad to Moscow when this capable England team played above itself and turned a drowsy, toxic summer back home into something else.

“Let’s not have any anguish this time. England’s four and a half weeks at the World Cup deserves a little better.”

Many others agree that while defeat is hard to take, it should not be allowed to take the sheen off the team’s achievements.

“The worst outcome now would be for England’s campaign in Russia to be tossed on the fire with all the others,” says Paul Hayward of The Daily Telegraph. “Blessings should be counted, when the angst wears off.

“Save us from the kind of revisionism that ignores hard facts. One is that England progressed from a group stage exit in 2014 to a semi-final defeat in extra-time four years later. No country on Earth would call that anything other than improvement.”

Former England striker Alan Shearer, writing in The Sun, echoed the thoughts of many as he described himself as “immensely proud... and totally devastated”.

He adds: “Nobody expected us to get this far before the tournament started - I didn’t. As it’s gone on, it became clear this was a brilliant chance for us. Now, we might look back and think ‘if only’.”

But here’s to a bright future, says The Times’s Matt Dickinson. “We can mix our sadness that they fell short with a genuine hope that this summer of love under a manager who has surpassed all expectations was more than just a quick fling.

“Who knows if this will be the high point for this team, for Southgate and for waistcoats, but at least it should be a pleasure to find out - not just for England players who have rediscovered a relish in playing for their country but for the rest of us who have taken to a young team which gave so much more than we had dared to hope.”

Not everyone is so forgiving. Daily Mirror’s John Cross has little time for dewy-eyed sentimentality.

England “threw away the opportunity of a lifetime and it could end up haunting this generation for the rest of the careers”, he says.

“You do not get many chances to reach a World Cup final and, as good and as uplifting as this journey has been, it will not ease the pain of what might have been.”

How the England players reacted

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