Here's the most painful part of England's World Cup semifinal loss

Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990

Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990

Under the clear blue skies of a attractive summer's evening, beer rained down as fans celebrated an early England goal in their first semi-final appearance in 28 years - a prospect which had seemed virtually impossible at the tournament's outset.

In the end, a goal from striker Mario Mandzukic in the second half of extra time provided the agonizing difference that booked Croatia a first ever World Cup final place, in which they will meet a formidable-looking "Les Bleus" at the same stadium on Sunday.

David Baddiel, part of the Three Lions anthem that found new life during the tournament, thanked the team for a "beautiful World Cup run".

But this time around Perisic, Luka Modric and company won all three group games, got through back-to-back penalty shootouts against Denmark and Russian Federation and became the first team to fight back from a goal down in three straight knock-out games.

England's chances of advancing still seemed decent enough as long as the score remained deadlocked. Harry Kane, the captain, is just 24.

The team's unexpected advance through the competition has coincided with weeks of uninterrupted sunshine across the country - equally rare in rain-sodden England.

Not after they conquered their shootout demons against Colombia in the Round of 16, and not after Southgate and his staff went to great lengths to ensure his players would embrace the tiebreaker if England got the opportunity to change its luck.

Gareth Southgate defends Harry Kane from semi-final criticism
THE hopes and fears of the nation have reached new heights ahead of England's semi-final clash with Croatia . The fans were incredible . "There are a lot of things that have been hugely positive for us".

Croatia's strength clearly lies in the central-midfield department that includes Real's Luka Modric and Barca's Ivan Rakitic.

Before then, in its World Cup debut in 1998, Croatia did reach the semifinals, where it lost to France. "I reckon there's a lot we could've done better".

Look, this England team will be around for a while.

You couldn't ask for anything more from the group of players. They were a joy to watch.

"The way we've been received here has been fantastic", Southgate said at a pre-match press conference at Luzhniki Stadium.

England faltered at that third hurdle with a World Cup final beckoning - the good work undone by exhausted legs and perhaps a withdrawal of ambition to protect a precious lead.

If they win, they head to the final against France.

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