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The dream is over

Mario Mandzukic's goal sent Croatia to the first World Cup final in their history.
Mario Mandzukic's goal sent Croatia to the first World Cup final in their history. / CARL RECINE / REUTERS
  • Mandzukic's strike in extra time saw England miss out on a spot in the World Cup final

  • Croatia fought back to overturn a one-goal deficit after Kieran Trippier's freekick gave the Lions the lead in the opening stages

It's not coming home after all. England's World Cup journey came to an end at the semifinal stage in Moscow on Wednesday night as Croatia overturned a one-goal deficit to win in extra time and progress to the final.

Kieran Trippier gifted England the perfect start, placing his freekick into the top corner in the fifth minute but despite this, confidence didn't flow and a meek strike from Harry Kane in the 30th minute, one-on-one with the goalkeeper, was to be England's only other attempt on target all game.

Gareth Southgate's side, lacking the killer touch, remained in control of the tie, though, this is until Croatia unexpectedly grabbed an equaliser in the 68th minute when Ivan Perisic acrobatically converted Sime Vrsaljko's cross from the right.

This saw nerves starting to set in, perhaps for the first time in the tournament, with communication breaking down in the Lions' backline. Perisic almost made John Stones pay for leaving a looping high ball to unexpecting goalkeeper Jordan Pickford when he rattled his shot off the post, with Pickford fortunate that the rebound from Ante Rebic fell straight into his hands.

As full time approached, Croatia were much the superior team, with England relying on the pace of substitute Marcus Rashford to manufacture counterattacking opportunities.

Stalemate, however, ensured extra time and England had the first chance of the half - once again through a set piece - when Stones saw his header from the corner cleared off the line by Vrsaljko.

Pickford came to the rescue just before the break when he spread his body well to deny Mario Mandzukic the go-ahead goal as he waited to tap home Perisic's cross.

That same duo combined again as Croatia bagged what proved to be the winner in the 109th minute. Perisic nodded the ball into Mandzukic's path after a poor Kyle Walker clearance, before the Juventus striker nipped in ahead of a shellshocked Stones to hook the ball across Pickford into the far corner.

Unlike against Tunisia, a late fightback never materialised as Croatia used their superior experience to see out the game.

"Remarkably proud"

"At the moment we all feel the pain of defeat," Southgate told reporters following the game. "I don't think realistically we expected to be here. But once you're here and played as well as we did, you want to take those opportunities in life."

The coach, who took the role permanently in November 2016, added: "I'm remarkably proud of the group of players - the reaction of the supporters compared to two years ago shows the country are proud of the way we played."

Prince William, who is also president of the English Football Association, tweeted: "You've had an incredible World Cup, made history, and gave us fans something to believe in. We know there is more to come from this England team."

The Costa reacts

England's journey to the semifinals - for the first time since Italia '90 - captured the imagination not only of a nation, but of thousands of football fans resident on the Costa del Sol.

Hundreds took to the bars in the usual Costa hotspots such as second line Puerto Banús, Duquesa port and Bonanza Square. However, Plaza de la Merced and surrounding streets in the city of Malaga were also teeming with supporters, either residents or enjoying their summer holidays, keen to soak up the atmosphere and revel in the greatest achievement of the national team in many of the younger supporters' lifetimes.

"The boys did great," said Joseph Philipson, who works as a translator. "It was a great ride seeing them come so far. The atmosphere in Malaga was amazing with so many turning out in their colours. Hopefully England can go home with a third-place medal."

Daniel Collins, a Science teacher in Benalmádena, added: "Even though we didn't win, it has been a great World Cup. They're a young side and went beyond all expectations to reach the semis. We even won a penalty shoot-out!"

It was not only the English backing the Three Lions. Guido Colantonio joined his English friends in backing the national side in the absence of his nation Italy at the tournament. He said: "It was nice to see England very competitive in the final stages of a major tournament after such a long time."

England face Belgium on Saturday, in the third-place playoff match.