Heartbreak for England as Croatia clinch it

Oh so nears: “It’ll hurt for a while, but we can hold our heads up high,” said Kane. © Getty

How disappointed should we be? After a nail-biting match, Croatia have made it to the World Cup final, defeating the Three Lions 2-1. For England fans, the dream is over for four more years.

It was all going so well for England. Five minutes into last night’s semi-final against Croatia, Kieran Trippier launched a free kick over the wall, beyond the desperate reach of Croatia’s goalkeeper. The net rippled, and England fans were in raptures.

But by the second half, the Three Lions looked ragged. Shots went wayward. England’s defence was stretched. Then the inevitable happened: Croatia equalised.

And in the second half of extra time, the crucial blow came: Mario Mandžukić’s opportunistic strike sailed past England keeper, Jordan Pickford. Worse still, Trippier (one of England’s best players this tournament) limped off with four minutes left to play. Both a goal and a man down, England had little hope.

Despite their notorious knack for set pieces, Marcus Rashford’s final free kick missed the mark. And as the whistle blew, the players fell to their knees in despair.

“We’ve come an incredibly long way in a short space of time,” said England’s manager, Gareth Southgate, after comforting his team. “We are probably beyond where we thought we might be able to go. So tonight we weren’t quite there, but the team will be stronger for that.”

England’s captain, Harry Kane, agreed. “We’re gutted, you know. We worked so hard… We’ve got to dust ourselves down and go again in a couple of years.”

The last time England lost a World Cup semi-final — against West Germany in 1990, when Croatia was not yet a country — its star player, Paul Gascoigne, was brought to tears before the final whistle blew.

This time, the team may have been defeated but the nation appeared hopeful. This morning, the Mirror’s front page declares them “Heroes”. The Daily Star says “You did us proud”, while the Express simply says “Thank you”.

And while The Lightning Seeds’s Three Lions has been chanted in the streets all week, last night England fans in Moscow turned to another 1996 classic: Don’t Look Back In Anger by Oasis.

Should fans be disappointed?

It could be again

It’s only natural, say some. The match was close — the team played well, but they missed some good chances. Their draw during this cup was lucky. They may not get such a clear path to the trophy for another generation. And England fans have been soaring ever since that incredible 6-1 victory against Panama. Now they have fallen, hard, and it hurts.

Be proud, urge others. England have outshone all expectations; a month ago, no one thought they could make it this far. And they have not only played well: the young, diverse team has somehow united the nation at a moment when its politics are in crisis. Listen to Three Lions one more time. Years of hurt never stop the dreaming. Football could still come home… just not today.

You Decide

  1. Will England win the World Cup in your lifetime?
  2. Does losing always make you stronger?

Activities

  1. The final on Sunday will be France vs Croatia. With a partner, discuss who you think will win and why. Take it in turns to explain your reasons to the rest of the class.
  2. Watch the video about the reaction to England’s last semi-final in 1990. (Found under Become An Expert.) Write a paragraph explaining how you think football, and Britain, have changed since.

Some People Say...

“A man can be destroyed but not defeated.”

Ernest Hemingway

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Croatia will now face France in the final at 4pm on Sunday (London time), while England will play Belgium for third place on Saturday. It is the first time that Croatia have made it to the final. It is the third time for France, who won in 1998 and lost to Italy in 2006. Croatia’s captain, Luka Modrić, said his team was motivated by English pundits who “underestimated Croatia… that was a huge mistake.”
What do we not know?
When (if ever) England will next win a World Cup. Despite this loss, the team looks more positive than it has in years. And the future is bright: the men’s under-17s and under-20s both won their World Cups last year. Meanwhile, the women’s team came third in the 2015 World Cup.

Word Watch

Set pieces
Goals won from free kicks, penalties and corners. Trippier’s goal last night was England’s ninth of the tournament — breaking the record for the most set piece goals in the World Cup since 1966.
Harry Kane
Despite last night’s loss, England’s captain is on track to win another title this World Cup: the Golden Boot, an award for the tournament’s top scorer. (He is on six.) Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku will need to score two goals on Saturday to match him, while French players Kylian Mbappé and Antoine Griezmann would need hat-tricks in Sunday’s final.
West Germany
From 1949 until October 1990, Germany was divided into two. East Germany was a Communist state, while West Germany was capitalist. They reunified three months after West Germany won the World Cup.
Not yet a country
In 1990, Croatia was still part of Yugoslavia. It declared independence in June 1991.
Diverse
Eleven of England’s 23-man team are black or mixed-race, and many come from oft-neglected northern towns. As Southgate put it: “We’re lads who have come from Barnsley and Leeds and Bolton and Blackburn.”