And then there was one.
Hopes that his club colleagues Jesse Lingard, Ashley Young, Marcus Rashford and Phil Jones could join him were raised when Kieran Trippier’s free-kick fired the Three Lions into a fifth-minute lead, but were ultimately dashed after a second-half equaliser by Ivan Perisic and an extra-time winner from Mario Mandzukic.
England dominated the first half and could have doubled the lead when Lingard, who was also involved in the lead-up to Trippier’s set-piece opener, played in Harry Kane for a close-range opportunity. The captain’s first attempt was saved and his follow-up on the rebound hit the post; moments later, Lingard also had a go at making it 2-0 but his shot flew just wide of the target.
Gareth Southgate’s side were made to rue those spurned chances when Perisic clinically pulled a goal back in the 68th minute and although the England boss replaced Raheem Sterling with the lively Rashford, the 1-1 scoreline forced an additional half-hour.
Young had put in a solid shift over the 90 minutes but he made way for Danny Rose as extra-time started; meanwhile, Jones remained on the bench for the fifth time in six World Cup games.
A seventh and final match will be played this weekend but it won’t be the final for England – Croatia striker Mario Mandzukic made sure of that when he latched on to Perisic’s header and beat Jordan Pickford, just when the young goalkeeper might have been contemplating another penalty shoot-out.
The 2-1 defeat means the Three Lions will now have to face Romelu Lukaku and Marouane Fellaini’s Belgium – for the second time at Russia 2018 – in Saturday’s third-place play-off.If they can improve on the 1-0 defeat in the concluding group-stage game, then England could still achieve a best World Cup finish since 1966; after bowing out of the 1990 semi-finals, Bobby Robson’s side lost the play-off to hosts Italy and were therefore ranked fourth.
Commiserations to Jesse, Ashley, Marcus and Phil for the semi-final defeat – and good luck to Paul Pogba in his bid to follow Sir Bobby Charlton and Nobby Stiles as a World Cup winner while at United.
Was an honour to represent my country at the world cup. The squad we have is a great bunch of lads who are willing to learn and give everything and we can hold our heads high. Thank you to everyone who supported our journey 👏🏾 we dont stop here! ⬆ #ThreeLions 🦁🦁🦁 pic.twitter.com/QuZ6XOmgOj— Jesse Lingard (@JesseLingard) July 11, 2018
It hurts and will for a while but Keep your heads high and be proud of what you have achieved @England. @GarethSouthgate, his staff and players have given us a team to be proud of and unified a country— Casey Stoney MBE (@CaseyStoney) July 11, 2018