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World Cup: England's World Cup dreams dashed as Croatia progress make history in reaching the tournament's final for the first time

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England suffered a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Zlatko Dalić’s Croatia, ending the Three Lion’s dream of finally bringing football home. Mario Mandzukic’s extra time winner was the final nail in the coffin for England who will now battle it out against Belgium for third place.

England took the lead in the fifth minute with Kieran Trippier’s stunning free kick that sailed past the hands of Subašić. England then went on to dominate the first half of the match with the Croatian’s failing to make their first attempt on goal until the 19th minuite.

 

England looked to increase their lead multiple times during the first half, with Harry Kane fluffing a perfect opportunity to pass the ball into the back of the Croatian net.

 

As the first half drew to a close, Croatia seemed much more threatening. The Croation’s seemed likely to net their first goal following Rebic’s cross but Stones cleared the danger before a follow up shot went straight into the hands of Pickford.

 

With the first half drawing to a close and the English enjoying the lead, it would be their failure to convert chances into goals that would be their downfall. If Harry Kane had been able to slip the ball past Subašić and doubled the lead, then the story of the second half may have been very different.

 

Vrsalijko’s 68th equaliser punished the English defence despite Manchester City’s Kyle Walker providing a stunning block merely moments before. It seemed that the English dream was to be dashed only four minutes later after Perisic’s shot hit the post.

 

The dominant team that controlled the first 45 minutes had clearly dropped their heads, with error after error started to break into the English game. England looked like they fancied the draw, having the chance to break the Croatian’s momentum to regroup and start again in extra time.

 

England looked to re-enter the game as formidable opponents as the first half of extra time saw the Three Lions have a few chances on goal. Harry Kane’s header sailed just wide of the Croatian post, fluffing an opportunity to pull ahead once again.

 

But it was Mandzukic who managed to get behind the English defence and bring the Croatian’s up to 2-1 in the games dying moments. The goal ensured the Croatian’s progression into their first ever World Cup final, knocking England out at the final hurdle.

 

Despite failing to progress into the finals for the first time since 1966, England have displayed plenty of positives in their style of play. Harry Maguire's defensive skills have been something of a revelation for the Three Lions, who also bagged his first ever goal for his country. Raheem Sterling also disproved crittics, who, despite fluffing a few chances on goal, was an incredible threat up front with logic defying speed that opened up plenty of chances on goal.

 

This was the furthest the England men’s team have progressed in a competitive tournament since 1990, with the England ladies making their way to the semi-finals in 2015. Harry Kane has pretty muched guaranteed himself the goldon boot of the tournament, following in the footsteps of Gary Lineker who earned the trophy back in 1990.

 

Gareth Southgate and his Three Lions will now face Belgium on Saturday for the third-place spot, having already faced them in the group stages of the contest. Croatia will then play France in Moscow on Sunday in a bid to earn their first ever World Cup trophy.

 

When the tournament is over, regardless of earning third place or not, Southgate’s England will receive a hero’s welcome upon their return. There may have been disappointment following the game, but upon reflection the English camp have accepted they were beaten by a better team and are proud of the progress they have made.

 

Having entered the contest with no expectations and little national unity, England have reached further than anyone fan would’ve dared to dream, leading to the inspiration of a generation and a team that will undoubtedly be gearing up to challenge for the title of the 2020 Euro’s.

Image rights - Wikimedia Commons - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Mario_Mand%C5%BEuki%C4%87_2018_(cropped).jpg

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