World Cup Diary - Day 27: It was all just a bit 'Englandy' as the Three Lions bowed out

Yahoo Sport UK

At half time in the Luzhniki Stadium, I sat back in my chair, planning my joyous pieces on England, thinking of metaphors to link to the political turmoil back home, how England had broken the mould, with the football team being the rare source of good news.

From our seats amid a phalanx of photographers (FIFA had messed up our accreditation, and two of us were entrenched in the photographers’ section), we sat comfortably after Kieran Trippier’s free-kick had found the net. Two hours later, it was a familiar feeling of what might have been.

All around Moscow during the day, England fans had been arriving in their droves, in slightly greater number than expected, but it was the Croatians bringing the colour, less concerned with consuming Georgian ale, more dancing in the street with locals, head to toe in red and white.

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The Luzhniki Stadium in the Russian capital had been a place of fond memories for me, as my last visit was as a Manchester United fan for the 2008 Champions League final. I fully expected more glory as I walked around the ground ahead of the World Cup semi final to soak up some atmosphere.

There some smiles despite the real despair from England players after their World Cup exit.

England players react on the pitch (AP Photo/Darko Bandic)
England players react on the pitch (AP Photo/Darko Bandic)

There were the usual songs sent back and forth between England and Croatia fans, but all in good grace. The unusual sight of the South Korean guy, who I had met in Brazil four years ago, dressed in full referee attire, holding a VAR sign, certainly kept fans amused.

The Luzhniki is huge, in all aspects. The media centre is split over three levels, and takes an age to get anywhere. Then, walking up to the press box itself is a task, with signs few and far between.

Amidst our angry photographer friends, who were lamenting the size of my head in various languages, we watched on as the Bury Beckham curled England into the lead, and a comfortable one at that, and started to dream.

The second half was just, well, Englandy. The effects of a long and arduous Premier League season seemed to take hold as the players looked exhausted, with Croatia, despite having played extra time in consecutive knockout games prior to the semis, running England ragged.

The result, heartbreakingly, was inevitable. The scene outside was one of devastation, as fans could not believe they had come so close, but yet so far.

Gareth Southgate and the players lingered for longer on the pitch after the game, grateful for the extra support in Moscow, themselves looking forlorn.

There was an overriding sense of pride among those solemnly trudging to the metro station, but also, what might have been. Was this England’s big chance blown? Would England ever have an easier route to the final, win a penalty shootout and avoid major injury in a tournament again?

One thing is for sure, at the end of the one of the most entertaining World Cups in living memory, a France v Croatia final does not exactly get pulses racing. Oh, England.


 

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