England still relied on long balls, says Croatia's Vrsaljko

Croatia vs England Key battles for World Cup semi-final

In Gareth Southgate, England have a manager who has brought new vigor to the national team setup, and who has managed to transform a side who crashed out to minnows Iceland at Euro 2016 into World Cup semifinalists.

England tried their best but could not manage an equaliser as their European rivals now look forward to Sunday's final with France.

Croatia was supposed to be a exhausted team coming into the match. "We were 1-0 up, we missed a few chances and mentally we dropped off and if you drop off against players of the class of Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, Ante Rebic and Ivan Perisic you're going to have trouble". But if anything, the grueling lead-up to the clash against England solidified Croatia's mental toughness, which served the Croats well on Wednesday.

Hazard shone at times but Kevin De Bruyne was quiet and Manchester United striker Lukaku was a shadow of the player he had been earlier in the tournament, even though Belgium enjoyed most of the possession.

He wrote for the Irish Independent: "I give Lovren credit for rebuilding his Liverpool career after that and there is no doubt that the arrival of Virgil van Dijk in the January transfer window helped him to put in a better second half of the season, but I'm still not convinced he can relied upon every time he takes to the field".

About 10 minutes before Mandzukic scored, defender Sime Vrsaljko headed a shot on target off the goal line to keep the score tied.

Southgate said the players were deeply disappointed, but that his young team could achieve great things in the years to come, with the European Championship just two years away.

In the seaside city of Split, fans wearing red and white checked Croatian shirts gathered in the bars, cafes and squares in the late afternoon sun, singing songs in anticipation of the night ahead.

But the goal stood, and it energized the Croatian players. They became the aggressors, pushing the attack and threatening several times when England's defense seemed to relax.

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"We worked as hard as we could.it hurts, it hurts a lot and it will hurt for a long time".

Four minutes later, Perisic hit Pickford's near post.

Croatia’s Mario Mandzukic and scores his team’s second goal during the World Cup semifinal against England at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on July 11, 2018.

It turned out to be the winning score.

- Who has the edge in the World Cup final? But this English team won't be returning from Russian Federation with the proverbial tail between the legs.

"We can hold our heads up high", said team Captain Harry Kane after the loss. It's been a fantastic journey. The injuries started to pile up, legs looked gassed and the opportunity to seal it became reality for Mandzukic, who sneaked behind the back of England defender John Stones to score the victor.

England arrived at this World Cup with the least experienced squad in terms of caps, but Southgate said the agony of losing was just as strong despite surpassing limited expectations. And work apparently is not a problem for a team that made history Wednesday with its grit and effort and mental strength.

Before a ball had even been kicked at the 2018 World Cup in Russian Federation, expectations surrounding the England national team were low. Until proved otherwise, the only label that fits is "winner".

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