England suffered World Cup heartbreak on Wednesday evening as Mario Mandzukic’s extra-time goal condemned them to a 2-1 loss to Croatia in the semi-finals.
The dream of claiming the trophy this summer is over, but there is much to be positive about.
Here, Press Association Sport looks at reasons for England fans to be cheerful following the Croatia game.
While there will be crushing disappointment at Wednesday’s defeat in a match they had led for over an hour, England’s run at Russia 2018 can be reflected upon with considerable satisfaction. They have fared better than was widely expected, with plenty having predicted beforehand the best that could be hoped for was making the quarter-finals, and have produced a number of memorable highs along the way. After the 2014 World Cup group-stage exit and humiliating last-16 loss to Iceland at Euro 2016, this effort has been in stark contrast and the nation has a team it can feel proud of and enthusiastic about once again.
Penalty hoodoo ended
A very notable part of that effort was managing to win a match on penalties – the first time England have ever done so at a World Cup. With their previous five shoot-outs at major tournaments having ended in failure, it was an area in which England appeared cursed, but the fear factor should not be so great going forward following the triumph they pulled off against Colombia in the last 16.
Experience and confidence for young players
Everything they have have been through at these finals will leave what is a relatively young group of England players with their experience of big games considerably increased, and in many cases, presumably, their confidence as high as it has ever been. The likes of Jordan Pickford and Harry Maguire have really announced themselves at the tournament, while captain Harry Kane is on course to claim the Golden Boot – they are aged 24, 25 and 24 respectively.
There is also some hugely exciting-looking young talent that may enter the mix before long. That includes Fulham’s Ryan Sessegnon, the 18-year-old who helped England win the Under-19s European Championship last summer and scored 16 goals across the 2017-18 season as the Cottagers achieved promotion from the Championship. Another major prospect is Phil Foden, also 18. He netted twice in England’s victory in the Under-17s World Cup final in October, and made 10 appearances in all competitions for Premier League champions Manchester City last term.
The man in charge
Overseeing it all is the manager Gareth Southgate, who is currently contracted through to the Euro 2020 finals, and on the basis of his work so far, it certainly seems the team is in good hands. He has made some big decisions, delivered results and commendable performances, taken England to only their third ever World Cup semi-final, and appeared reassuringly composed while doing so.