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Comment: Pride restored as England's dream fades away

By Joe Edwards | Football | Published: | Last Updated:

These England players will return home as national treasures and the vast majority of us will look back on this tournament with fond memories but, right now, the overall feeling is one of disappointment.

Gareth Southgate and his players can be proud

The what-ifs race through your mind. If only Harry Kane had stuck his first-half chance to make it 2-0 away, like he would most of the time. If only John Stones had looked over his shoulder and saw Mario Mandzukic was ready to pounce for the winner.

Jamie Vardy could have come on a bit sooner too, and bringing on Eric Dier was a bit of a negative move.

We could go over the ifs, buts and maybes forever but, ultimately, it is what it is.

We have to accept, at least for a couple of years, that football isn’t coming home.

Credit must go to Croatia. For large spells of the game – the second half of normal time and both periods of extra-time – they had more energy and displayed more attacking intent.

In fact, despite going through extra-time and penalties in the two previous rounds, they seemed to get more lively as the game went on.

The Three Lions, made up of youngsters who, let’s not forget, have surpassed the general expectation, had nothing left in the tank.

They gave their all, but it was not enough. They don’t quite yet have the quality or big-game experience.

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The pre-match jitters were massive, butterflies were very much in the stomach.

And that was just us, never mind Gareth Southgate and the players who took to the Luzhniki Stadium pitch.

If you’ve ever played football, at any sort of level, you would have most likely been involved in a team talk about getting an early goal to settle the nerves.

England came flying out of the blocks, with breakout star Kieran Trippier showing supreme skill to curl home a free-kick from 25 yards.

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But this time around, the goal did not ease the tension – every single minute was nail-biting.

Kane, somehow, struck the post from all of a yard out after his initial tame effort was saved. Jesse Lingard then side-footed the ball wide from the edge of the box when he could have put his laces through it.

Ivan Perisic’s second-half equaliser was gutting, but not surprising. Croatia had been dominating possession for a good amount of time beforehand, pumping balls into the box.

And the same goes for Mandzukic’s heartbreaking strike in the second half of extra-time.

All in all, while it hurts and will for a while, there is plenty to be positive about.

It does appear Southgate is building something – the vast majority of players should be around for the Euros in 2020 and the next World Cup, should we qualify of course.

The main thing is that this group have had us smiling over the last few weeks. They have restored pride. They can hold their heads high.

Joe Edwards

By Joe Edwards
Multi-Media Sports Journalist - @JoeEdwards_Star

Sports reporter for the Express & Star and Shropshire Star.

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