Croatia yet again showed their magnificent resilience to come from behind and beat England 2-1 on Wednesday as Mario Mandzukic’s extra-time goal sent them into their first World Cup final and a possible revenge mission against France.
For the third successive knockout game, the Croats trailed, this time to Kieran Trippier’s fifth-minute free kick, but they fought back once more to force extra time.
Ivan Perisic levelled after 68 minutes and, having got past Denmark and Russia on penalties, Croatia rolled up their sleeves for another extra period.
This time they did not need the shootout as, seemingly gaining in energy when they should have been on their knees, they took charge and won it when Mandzukic struck with a well-taken low shot in the 109th minute.
“This tournament will be won by a team with character. We were 1-0 down in three games in a row,” Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic said.
“For Croatian football and the country this is history being written — I can’t think of a smaller country to reach the final.”
Despite the disappointment of England's loss, there was an outpouring of support towards Gareth Southgate's team, with many describing the side's achievements at Russia as having 'exceeded expectations'.
The official Three Lions Twitter handle put out a thank you post for its fans right after the team's exit:
To everyone who supported us.
To everyone who believed this time was different.
To everyone who wasn't afraid to dream.
To everyone who knows this is only the beginning.July 11, 2018
Daniel Sturridge was in no mood to listen to any sort of negativity about his team when he put this out:
If anyone has anything negative to say about this @England team or individuals keep your tweets to yourself. Nobody would have thoughts they'd be where they are or achieved what they have and they've made everyone proud so get behind them and show love not hate #threelions ❤️— Daniel Sturridge (@DanielSturridge) July 11, 2018
England great Alan Shearer lauded manager Southgate for giving supporters "great entertainment" as well as "hope":
Far exceeded expectations. Well done @England and well done @GarethSouthgate you have been brilliant. Given us great entertainment and found a system and given us hope. #threelions #RussiaWorldCup2018— Alan Shearer (@alanshearer) July 11, 2018
Prince William is trending as well as he consoled the England team for after their loss and advised them to "hold their heads high":
I know how disappointed @england must feel right now but I couldn’t be more proud of this team and you should hold your heads high. You’ve had an incredible #WorldCup, made history, and gave us fans something to believe in. We know there is more to come from this @england team. W— Kensington Palace (@KensingtonRoyal) July 11, 2018
England are out... unbelievable achievement from the boys, staff & every1 behind the scenes! You have united the country & go home as heroes! Special praise for Gareth... you have given us an identity & made us believe in Int football again! @england @FIFAWorldCup pic.twitter.com/TXLFO6UUKd— Rio Ferdinand (@rioferdy5) July 11, 2018
England fans had been raving about the World Cup finally "coming home". They'll have to just contend themselves with the bare truth right now:
Even Croatian fans couldn't resist trolling England over the Euro 1996 anthem:
Croatia become the 13th team to contest the final and the first new finalists since Spain in 2010.
Since their dream run to the last four in 1998, their first tournament as an independent nation, Croatia have failed to get past the group stage, with every subsequent failing team being compared unfavourably with the heroes of France.
This side, however, have gone one better and will get the chance to avenge the defeat of 20 years ago when they face the French on Sunday at the Luzhniki Stadium.
England face a third-place playoff with Belgium on Saturday having exceeded many people’s expectations but aware that they let what might prove the be the best chance in a generation to end what is now 52 years of hurt.