Russia 2018 Watch: It’s not coming home for England
PUBLISHED: 22:42 11 July 2018 | UPDATED: 22:42 11 July 2018
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One of our last blogs of the 2018 World Cup is tinged with brutal disappointment
If England don’t win, they will never forgive themselves.
Those were the words of Roy Keane during the half-time break, with the Three Lions 1-0 up against Croatia in the World Cup semi-final thanks to Kieran Trippier’s superb early free-kick.
Gareth Southgate’s men had enjoyed the better of the opening 45 minutes, seen Harry Kane hit the post from close range, as Croatia laboured, dogged by successive 120-minute outings and penalty shoot-outs in the previous two rounds.
But out of nothing they let their lead slip midway through the second half, as Ivan Perisic volleyed home, and after surviving some truly wobbly spells before full time, they eventually fell to a 108th-minute goal from the opportunistic Mario Mandzukic.
Trippier limped off injured and, with all four substitutions having been used already, England finished with 10 men, wondering what might have been.
Having left the office at 520pm and forced my way onto an overcrowded C2C service from Barking to Upminster, I did not hold out much hope when my satnav told me there were traffic problems on my route home.
Several miles of slow traffic, then notice of an accident on the A12 out of London had me contemplating listening to the early part of the match on Five Live.
As luck would have it, though, I managed to pass two crash sites, make up some time approaching Colchester and make it to my chosen viewing spot as the national anthems were being played.
ITV’s Clive Tyldesley told us how Southgate had said his young side were ‘not at the level they are capable of yet’ as play got underway and before we knew it Dele Alli being fouled just outside the box by Luka Modric.
‘He knows how to fall over,’ noted one of my co-viewers, somewhat harshly, before Trippier stepped up to bend his set-piece into the top corner.
As pints of beer flew through the air at fan sites and pubs across the UK, we sat in stunned silence.
‘Get my waistcoat!’ added my sofa buddy, as it was explained how Trippier had joined an elite group of three English World Cup goalscorers, following in the footsteps of Bobby Charlton (2 v Portugal, 1966) and Gary Lineker (1 v West Germany, 1990).
It could have been 2-0 when Harry Maguire headed a corner beyond team-mates in the six-yard box, then Kane fired wide, but was offside anyway.
‘They don’t look threatening yet,’ offered a Croatia critic sitting beside me, as dinner was served.
‘This will get thrown in the air if we score again’ claimed someone, as Kane saw a good chance saved and then put the rebound against the upright.
Jesse Lingard curled another effort wide, before Croatia finally enjoyed a spell of their own late in the first half.
But we were all very comfortable as the whistle went, before Keane’s words rang an ominous note.
The second half began slowly. Maguire – looking like Toby Leonard Moore from Sky Atlantic show ‘Billions’ – stepped out of defence with authority, but could not find Kane, as talk turned to cheesecake.
Kyle Walker, having tweeted about sending shirts to the boys rescued from a cave in Thailand a day earlier, was booked for holding onto the ball after feeling he had been fouled.
Kane and Sterling linked up before Lingard’s shot was deflected over, then Walker shinned one behind his own goal, worryingly.
Jordan Pickford punched the corner clear.
‘I think it’s coming home’ offered my couch cohabitant as the clock ticked past an hour and Sterling went over in the box. ‘It was foot to foot’ noted Glenn Hoddle in commentary, before Perisic saw a shot blocked by Walker, in an uncomfortable place.
‘Walker really took one for the team there,’ added Hoddle. ‘He gets back up, gets a headed clearance. It’s a tough one to take, putting your body on the line for your country.’
Then out of nothing, it was all square as a great cross in from the right was met by Perisic, in front of Walker, at the far post and he diverted it past Pickford with his studs.
England were shaken. A mix-up between Stones and Pickford handed Perisic a shooting chance and the ball came back off a post and into the keeper’s hands.
Sterling made way for Marcus Rashford, Lingard rolled a great chance across the face of Croatia’s goal from Kane’s pass.
My heart rate was up to 95BPM, with England’s defence creaking once more.
Kane headed wide from a free-kick in injury time and time was up.
Making the short drive home for extra time, we heard Five Live’s John Murray claim ‘it doesn’t look good for England’ as Danny Rose replaced Ashley Young, due to an ankle injury Dion Dublin explained.
Chris Waddle sounded fearful for Croatia, though, as their players started going down.
Tyldesley, with comic timing, said England ‘have the world at their feet, if they can just find something’ before they almost fell behind, as Pickford denied Mandzukic with his knee on the stroke of time.
‘We just hope they can come up with that one moment,’ said Gary Neville during the turnaround. ‘They’ve got to dig deep, deep, deep.’
Tyldesley continued: ‘Four of England’s five penalty takers from the Colombia game are on the field, except Jordan Henderson (replaced by Eric Dier), who missed.
But then a cross from the left was not properly cleared by Walker, the ball was headed back into the box by Perisic, and Mandzukic caught Stones napping to fire home.
‘England just go to sleep,’ noted Hoddle. ‘It’s a nothing type of header, played in behind our defence and a very good finish. Stones is caught napping and like any good striker, he is on his toes. It’s a goal that could’ve easily been averted.’
Jamie Vardy was the last throw of the dice for Southgate, on for Walker with eight and a half minutes left. But then Trippier limped off and they were down to 10 men.
Croatia worked the clock, including four more minutes of stoppage time, to reach their first World Cup final. England players dropped to their haunches as Southgate made his way round each one with hugs and words of comfort.
‘England are contenders again,’ said Tyldesley. ‘They have restored national pride in the national team. They’ve given us a wonderful ride and will return home as national treasures. Gareth Southgate said they can get better and it’s going to be fun watching them.’
The pundits then offered their final thoughts.
Lee Dixon: ‘You have to say there wasn’t an awful lot in the game. We looked like the team that tired first, stopped closing down, small margins. We came across our hardest opponents and they beat us. A tiny lack of quality in last third cost us.’
GNev: ‘They’ve overachieved reaching the semi-final. They can be absolutely proud. I hope they get another opportunity. That was a huge opportunity.’
Ian Wright: ‘I’m very proud of what the team has done. Croatia were easily the best team we’ve come up against. What Gareth has done is magnificent. We’re proud of the team.’
Roy Keane: ‘Croatia seemed to get stronger, more streetwise, more composure. England gave two sloppy goals away. Credit to Gareth Southgate, he’s a class guy. Going forward he’ll be delighted.’
But for now, it’s tears for souvenirs and we’re left hoping it’s not such a long wait until we next see England in with a chance of playing in a World Cup final.