ENGLAND’S great World Cup adventure is over — after Gareth Southgate’s young Lions lost 2-1 to Croatia in a pulsating, nerve-shredding semi-final.
Skipper Harry Kane, speaking minutes after the final whistle, summed up the feelings of the nation when he said: “It hurts. It hurts a lot.
“But we can hold our heads up high. We have gone further than a lot of people thought we would do.
“Obviously it has been great to get to this stage and we know we have done everyone proud — but we wanted to win. We wanted more and are sad we couldn’t give our fans a final.”
Southgate added: “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.”
Pete Wood, 27, of Manchester, said: “Nothing like this has happened in my lifetime so despite the disappointment it has been amazing. No one expected us to get to the semi-finals.
“It’s a young squad and looks good for the future. To get so far is a massive achievement.”
The Three Lions went ahead in Moscow, but were pegged back by Ivan Perisic’s equaliser before Mario Mandzukic’s goal sent their opponents through to Sunday’s final against France.
Kieran Trippier’s stunning opener after five minutes as worthy of any game, but optimism evaporated as the Three Lions ran out of ideas – and tension mounted among the millions of fans watching all around the country.
Southgate’s men will now go on to play for third place against their group rivals Belgium on Saturday, while Croatia will face the French in Sunday’s final.
Yesterday the country was brought to a standstill once more as millions left work early to get home or to the pub in time for kick-off of what was England’s biggest game for 28 years.
London’s Oxford Street, usually buzzing with commuters, lay empty, and the A11 in Suffolk as well as the M1 in London were deserted as the match gripped the nation.
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Jamie Vardy’s wife Rebekah and Fern Hawkins – the partner of Harry Maguire – were both in the crowd to cheer their boys on, while Gary Lineker, Slaven Bilic and Ryan Giggs all witnessed the game at close quarters.
A surge of 10,000 supporters more than doubled the backing for Southgate’s young Lions in Moscow overnight as they played their biggest game in a generation.
The post mortem over English football’s exciting summer began soon after kick-off with Gary Neville, Ian Wright and Roy Keane fiercely debating the merits of their campaign from the pundit’s chairs.
Keane said: “Harry Kane made the point about the next step they’re truing to take, the next step is trying to get to the World Cup final. The hardest step by far.
“They didn’t show enough quality tonight, England. We praised the, but the opportunity was there to win the game.
“Having the opportunity and going to take it is another challenge, and they didn’t do that.
“They will be kicking themselves, maybe not tonight because they’ll be sore and raw.
“But when Gareth gets back over the next few weeks with his staff, they’ll look at it and go ‘maybe we could have done something differently.’
“You always have that mindset when you’ve been beaten.
“But, it was just a step too far for them.”
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