What Did We Learn from Croatia vs England?
In the aftermath of England's dramatic World Cup semifinal exit to Croatia, we have drawn some conclusions from yet another gripping match in a tournament that has constantly delivered excitement for fans.
Croatia are worthy finalists
If no-one expected England to get to the semifinals of the World Cup, even fewer would have predicted an appearance in the final for Croatia. But that shouldn't detract from what has been a stunning team effort by a bunch of players that has been pushed to their physical limits, winning penalty shootouts against 2010 World Cup champions Spain and hosts Russia. Then came another gruelling 120 minutes against England, a test that they passed with flying colours. The world started to sit up and take notice when Croatia dispatched Argentina 3-0 in the group stages; now the world will watch them in the sport's biggest match on Sunday.
Margins between success and faulure are slim
It's a sporting cliché, but the line that exists between winning and losing is such a fine one. There can be so many ifs and buts in the post-match analysis, and surely John Stones will struggle to get his mistake of ball-watching while Mario Mandžukić nipped ahead of him to strike the fatal blow. Stones had an excellent tournament, however, and that mistake shouldn't be what his performances are remembered for. Harry Maguire and Jesse Lingard both came close, Harry Kane hit the frame of the goal and the ricochet someohow and miraculously cannoned on to Croatia keeper Danijel Subašić and away to safety. Croatia had that little bit of luck that top teams need at crucial junctures.
England were not convincing enough from open play
The stats will show that England scored more goals from set pieces than any other team, and maybe it's fitting that their last goal at the tournament was a dead-ball strike from Kieran Trippier. Did England fashion, or more importantly take, enough chances from open play? The answer is almost certainly no, and that answer is particularly true for the semifinal when they produced good chances but failed to convert them.
...but Gareth Southgate's team did themselves proud
The Three Lions exceeded all expectations by getting to the World Cup semifinals in Russia. Some experts tipped them to not even advance from their group, such was the pessimism around their chances. In reality, Harry Kane's young Three Lions team played some excellent football and showed a fearlessness that wasn't a trait of previous England World Cup squads that might have buckled under the weight of expectation.