AFP photographer becomes part of Croatia World Cup goal celebration

Elias Hubbard
July 12, 2018

But in the end, it wasn't enough.

After taking an early lead, all the hopes of reaching a first final since 1966 were extinguished by two Croatian goals, the second in extra time, to send England not into a battle with France on Sunday but to play Belgium for the bronze medal on Saturday.

"The game became too end-to-end and we didn't build in the way we had been".

But defeat still stings for Gareth Southgate and his overachieving players.

'Did we expect to be in this position? Southgate asked after the game. We are probably beyond where we thought we might be able to go.

After 20 minutes of emotion on the pitch - where players barely said a word to each other while Southgate comforted each and every one - the England stars returned to the dressing room to rousing applause.

The aura around England could not be more different to the stale, disunited air that accompanied them away from France two years ago.

Croatia had twice needed penalties to get to this stage, first in the round of 16, where they beat Denmark, then in the quarterfinals, where they beat hosts Russian Federation, two shootouts that made goalkeeper Danijel Subašić a hero.

Mbappe appeared risky throughout, creating six scoring chances for his side, who will wait the winners of Wednesday's other semi between England and Croatia.

The French have relied on the attacking brilliance of 19-year-old forward Kylian Mbappé while Croatia have depended on Luka Modric and Mario Mandzukic to spearhead their attack. They have personality as players and as a team.

He added: 'For the players, I couldn't be prouder of what they've given.

Southgate is keen to remind people that England's squad was the least experienced in Russian Federation.

Mandzukic patted Cortez on the back, before shaking hands as he ran back onto the field of play.

"We take it on the chin, we move on".

"We'll be there and it's a once in a lifetime opportunity seeing them in the World Cup".

Southgate has rebuilt the England team since their abject failure at Euro 2016, when Roy Hodgson's side were humiliated by Iceland in the round of 16.

The English squad is remarkably young, and by the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, the team will have four years more experience under their belts.

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A win for England would help erase World Cup futility. Now is the time to be strong as a group and take the time to reflect on the performance a little bit more over the next couple of days. "[France] President Emmanuel Macron came down to see us".

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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