You knew it was going to happen, didn’t you? England were bound to shoot themselves in the Day-Glo orange boot at some point and crash out of the World Cup.
England were confident of a place in the final after gaining a spot in the relatively easier side of the draw. They held their nerve to overcome Colombia in a penalty shootout and put Sweden to the sword in the quarter-final.
The thing is, Croatia were always going to be a more difficult proposition, with their supremely gifted midfield trio of Luca Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Ivan Perisic, and the lethal Mario Mandzukic up front.
It didn’t seem that Croatia would pose any problems in the first-half in Moscow, with England on the front foot from the kick-off. The Three Lions – who appearing in their first World Cup semi-final since they were beaten on penalties by West Germany at Italia ’90 – were given a dream start from an unlikely source when Kieran Trippier rifled home a 20m free-kick after only five minutes.
Croatia have heart, it must be said. After not being granted a sniff at goal in the first stanza, they emerged from the changing room with renewed vigour and it was England who were against the ropes when Perisic cracked home the equaliser in the 68th minute, with a vicious taekwondo-style shot from the edge of the area. The Inter Milan livewire could have had a second a few minutes later, but saw his cross-goal effort agonisingly hit the post.
Croatia were in the ascendancy going into extra-time – after all, it was the Balkans side’s third extended game in a row. There was an air of inevitability when Mandzukic scored the winning goal in the 109th minute, slotting in from Perisic’s flick-on into the area.
Croatian players piled on to Juventus striker – and onto an unfortunate cameraman – to celebrate with their tablecloth-wearing supporters. It was a magnificent effort from a team often underestimated despite their wealth of talent. They have gone one better than the famous 1998 squad, who were knocked out in the semi-finals by France, and will come up against the same opposition in a bid to lift their maiden World Cup title.
Instead of a place in the final against France, England will have to settle for a grudge match against Belgium in the third-place playoff on Saturday.
The hype train has been derailed. No, it won’t be coming home.