Croatia 2 - England 1
I have been on not quite forty tours around the sun and in that time England has appeared in two World Cup Semi Finals and lost both of them. For most of this England side, they weren't even alive the last time that England last appeared in one and what makes this all the more sad is that the last time that England was in a Final was more than half a century ago.
I'm beginning to think that the distance between England winning World Cups is measured in Halleys, which ya unit of time based upon the time it takes for that cold and dead piece of ice to do its own tour of the sun. If this is indeed the metric, then England should expensive to win the World Cup in 2042.
As for now? We've been disappointed yet again.
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all.
- Emily Dickinson (254)
Emily Dickinson was obviously never a football fan; furthermore she was never an England fan because she would have known that if Hope is the thing with feathers, then its like a canary down a pit, and will be one of the first things to die before everyone is killed when the oxygen runs out.
Hope came and perched in the soul after just five minutes when a fairly innocuous challenge brought down Sterling just outside the Croatian box. Both Young and Trippier stood up to the ball but Trippier was the one whose pinpoint delivery found nothing but the top corner of the goal. It lifted over the top of the two tallest players in the Croatian wall, it curled as though it had some kind of internal guidance system, and it dipped ever so deftly.
At one-nil up England looked like they were going to tear Croatia to pieces but nobody bothered to tell Croatia and they immediately sought to correct the mistake in the universe. When they won a corner after eleven minutes, it was all that England could do to scramble it out and on no steps at all Jordan Pickford launched a clearance from his own six yard box and found his opposite number at the other end of the field.
The match turned into something of a street fight and England could have doubled the lead when Sterling's deft pass to Harry Kane was somehow wasted from less than six yards away. Croatia almost equalised on the counter attack when the clearance found Modric who sent it to Rebic; who beat the back pair but couldn't get Pickford.
Ten minutes before the break, Kane went for a run and janked it to Dele Alli who took too many touches and so was forced to offload it to Lingard whose shot was wide. From here Croatia shut the gate and England were stranded outside the 18 yard box for extended periods. Although there was attempts from both Sterling and Young, there was no way that anyone was going to score from outside the area tonight and the half time break saw England nursing a one goal lead which is never enough except when the final whistle goes.
Croatia came back after the break with a greater sense of purpose and at the 64th minute, Rakitic's shot troubled Pickford. Three minutes later though, while Croatia was still brimming with confidence, Vrsaljko lifted a ball over the back three of England and Perisic duly found the equaliser.
England were stunned by this and very nearly went behind in rapid fashion when Perisic again troubled Pickford but the shot struck the upright and Sterling was the one who had to clear the ball.
Twenty minutes of chaos became fifteen minutes of worry, ten minutes of anxiety and finally five minutes of mind numbing boredom. At 1-1 at full time, England must've thought that they could kill the game off in extra time and very nearly did so when after winning a corner, Trippier's ball in was met with Stones' head and then disappointment as it scuffed the top side of the crossbar.
Half time of extra time looked like a formality but just three minutes after the third break in play, Mandzukic became the hero of Croatia when a ball was played in behind a compressed England back five and he was able to sneak away what would ultimately be the winner.
England's last roll of the dice came up snake eyes after a short period of play when Modric was prepared to play actual fisticuffs just to waste time and Maguire was hacked down in a challenge which also served no real purpose than to waste time. It worked beautifully as Ashley Young's free kick didn't even find an England head and as the final whistle blew it yet again became obvious as to what an England fan's job is: to be perpetually and horrendously disappointed in new and unique ways.
There is an old cat proverb which says that "if you want to eat fish, you should expect bones". There should be a three lion proverb which says that "if you want to talk garbage, you should expect pain". Even the song "Three Lions" by Skinner, Baddiel and the Lightning Seeds, which has been ringing out in Russia which contains the line "Football's coming home" also contains the lines:
Everyone seems to know the score,
They’ve seen it all before
They just know, they’re so sure
That England’s gonna throw it away, gonna blow it away
Today, they did precisely that... again... and it won't be the last time either. Hope is the thing with feathers, that perches in the soul, and then is snuffed out yet again, when England concedes a goal.