Wednesday 19 September 2018

5 things we learned as England fell short in the World Cup semi-finals

Croatia fought back to win an extra-time thriller in Moscow.

Mario Mandzukic celebrates scoring Croatia’s winner in their semi-final victory against England (Aaron Chown/PA)
Mario Mandzukic celebrates scoring Croatia’s winner in their semi-final victory against England (Aaron Chown/PA)

By Phil Blanche, Press Association Sport

England’s World Cup dream died as Croatia fought back to win their Moscow semi-final 2-1.

Here, Press Association Sport looks at five things we learned from the game.

Football’s not coming home

The line in the Three Lions anthem of 1996 recalls “30 years of hurt”. Well, make that 52 now. For all those countless assertions that ‘football is coming home’ it is, indeed, heading to France or Croatia. England’s despair will be all the harder to take after Kieran Trippier’s early free-kick had them dreaming of a Moscow final on Sunday. Had John Stones’ extra-time header, cleared off the line with the score at 1-1, gone in it might have been a different story. But there could be no complaints as this young England side fell short and Croatia showed their class to deservedly book a final place.

Trippier really is the ‘Bury Beckham’

Few would have had Trippier down as first goalscorer. The Tottenham full-back had not scored since February 2016 and never in an England shirt. But Trippier needed only five minutes to become the third Englishman to score in a World Cup semi-final, following in the illustrious footsteps of Sir Bobby Charlton and Gary Lineker. Trippier does not take free-kicks at Spurs with Christian Eriksen around, and is known as the ‘Bury Beckham’ because of his delivery from the right rather than his set-piece ability. But after his Moscow masterpiece, it might be a case of Beckham now being known as the ‘Walthamstow Trippier’.

Full value of Sterling

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England’s Raheem Sterling, right, caused a lot of early problems against Croatia (Owen Humphreys/PA)

So often singled out for criticism, much of it unfair, Raheem Sterling had genuine claims to be considered England’s best player in the first half. Sterling has often darted into little holes during this tournament, his quick footwork allowing space for others to prosper. But this time he operated further forward, even beyond Harry Kane a lot of the time, as England sought to utilise his pace and unsettle centre-backs Dejan Lovren and Domagoj Vida. The tactic worked a treat as he stretched the play, but England’s loss of control after the restart saw Sterling starved of service and sacrificed.

Set-pieces kill again

In a tournament where the set-piece has been king, England again showed they are the masters of this particular discipline. Trippier’s free-kick was the 70th goal scored from a set-piece in Russia. It was also England’s ninth out of 12 goals with the Three Lions equally deadly from the penalty spot, corners or free-kicks outside the box. The total is also now the most by any team in a single World Cup tournament since 1966 – but sadly, for England, it was no omen with a repeat of that famous Wembley triumph ended in extra-time.

France the real winners

Didier Deschamps and his France players might just have been wearing the widest smiles in the whole of Russia. Safely into Sunday’s showpiece courtesy of their 1-0 victory over Belgium, France already knew they would have an advantage of 24 hours extra rest against their final opponents. But that turned into a little more time as Croatia and England stood toe-to-toe and almost punched themselves into a standstill. Croatia are only the second team in World Cup history to go to extra-time in three consecutive games. So the question is now can they recover in time to take on France?

Press Association

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