It took Croatia 109 minutes of football to take the lead against England, but they edged it in the end. They were the better team in the second-half, they hit the post, Jordan Pickford made one magnificent save.
But let’s get one thing straight. England were not lucky to be here. They were not fortunate beneficiaries of a soft draw, or undeserving contenders for the 2018 World Cup. They were, in many ways, the best team here. Not in football terms, or technical terms. No-one is claiming them the match for France, or even Croatia, the finalists. But as a team, a band of brothers, a group of players amounting to more than the sum of their parts, England were outstanding.
There is no shame here, no failure. England did as well as could possibly be expected given their youth, inexperience and the absence of a playmaker in the class of Luka Modric. Gareth Southgate, the manager, has done an exceptional job and the national team should be his to mould for another four years at least. He deserves that, and so do they, his loyal lieutenants.
Croatia: Subasic, Vrsaljko, Lovren, Vida, Strinic (Pivaric 95), Rakitic, Brozovic, Rebic (Kramaric 101), Modric (Badelj 119), Perisic, Mandzukic (Corluka 116)
Subs not used: Livakovic, Kovacic, Jedvaj, Bradaric, Caleta-Car, Pjaca, Lovren, Kalinic
Goalscorers: Perisic 68, Mandzukic 109
Booked: Mandzukic, Rebic
England: Pickford, Walker (Vardy 112), Stones, Maguire, Trippier, Alli, Henderson (Dier 97), Lingard, Young (Rose 90), Sterling (Rashford 74), Kane
Subs not used: Butland, Welbeck, Cahill, Jones, Delph, Loftus-Cheek, Alexander-Arnold, Pope
Goalscorers: Trippier 5
Referee: Cuneyt Cakir.
Anyone who thinks England just got lucky, doesn’t know football. This game was the proof of it. They battled Croatia to a standstill, both teams exhausted, all energy and emotion spent. They could not have given more, either of them and that a single goal separated them is fitting. Better that than to lose of penalties and see that hoodoo return. That is another curse that has been lifted at this World Cup.
Credit Croatia, too. This was a spirited performance after two knockout games that have reached penalties. When England took the lead after five minutes, and dominated the opening 30, it would have been easy to be overwhelmed. Instead, they found a way back into the game, through Modric and man of the match Perisic, outstanding technical talents that point the way forward for Southgate and his men. But they know that, having come so close. They know there is a missing link, and the next step is finding it. Easier said than done.