All England fans wanted from this summer’s World Cup finals was something to smile about following the disastrous showings at the 2014 World Cup and 2016 European Championships.
Pre-tournament expectations were low, despite a reasonably impressive qualification campaign, with most people expecting a Round of 16 exit or, at best, an appearance in the quarter-finals.
But Gareth Southgate and his players have given England’s long-suffering fans plenty of reasons to smile over the past four weeks.
It’s been an unforgettable tournament for the Three Lions, who have the chance to secure third place with victory over Belgium this Saturday.
Sadly, though, they will not be competing against France in the World Cup final on Sunday afternoon.
Despite taking the lead against Croatia through Kieran Tripper on Wednesday night, England lost the match 2-1 after 120 minutes. Ivan Perisic took the game to extra-time with his second-half equaliser before Mario Mandzukic broke English hearts in the 109th minute.
It feels like a wasted opportunity for England, but Southgate and his men can still be immensely proud of everything they’ve achieved together this summer.
Mourinho explains where England went wrong in extra-time
One man who watched the England v Croatia game closely was Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho.
The Portuguese coach, who was providing analysis of the match for RT, explained where England got it wrong against Croatia in extra-time.
"The decisions of the lateral free-kicks that happened, I thought England went the wrong way at that time," Mourinho said. "Because they were trying to have the soft ball to [Harry] Maguire but in previous matches Maguire was very, very dominant in relation to other opponents and today was not the case.
"They were giving [Dejan] Lovren the mission to go with that first ball with Maguire. Marcus Rashford is very good taking the lateral free-kicks with tension, with speed and into other areas and they decide always for what I call the 'balloon' coming down and gave time for Lovren to adapt to the position and for [Danijel] Subasic to come out to catch.
“So, in the end they were also dominated by the mental point of view.”
Interesting analysis from Mourinho
Very interesting analysis from Mourinho, that. One example of this was in the sixth minute of extra-time, when Tripper floated in a free-kick to Maguire, whose header was blocked by Lovren.
Mourinho clearly feels that England stood a better chance of scoring from free-kicks had Rashford been allowed to drill the ball into the box with pace.
Instead, the Man Utd forward floated England’s final two free-kicks into the penalty area, presumably under the instructions of the coaching staff to specifically pick out Maguire.
It failed to have the desired effect. As Mourinho says, this may have worked against opponents they were superior to in the air, but it was always unlikely to work against Croatia.
“I think Croatia deserve it over the 120 minutes,” Mourinho added. “It’s an incredible achievement for a country where the league is a minor league, where almost 100 per cent of the players don’t play in Croatia.”
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