Croatia 2 – 1 England (after ET) – England fall at the last hurdle in their attempt to reach their first FIFA World Cup Final since ’66.

In the end it was heartbreak for England after a fantastic FIFA World Cup™ journey. Gareth Southgate and his squad united the nation and brought back a passion for international football that had been long forgotten. Football fans in this country had almost given up hope of seeing their national side lift a major trophy, but the manager’s iconic waistcoat and the performances of our promising young team had us singing ‘It’s coming home’ again. Yet here we are. After a tough semi-final defeat against a resilient Croatia, we’re out of the FIFA World Cup™ and left wondering what could have been.

England took the lead within five minutes through a fantastic Kieran Trippier free-kick, all but sealing his position in the team of the tournament. The Three Lions fans were already dreaming of the final and they can be forgiven for doing so, Croatia simply couldn’t deal with England in the first half. Zlatko Dalic’s side pressed our defence high up the pitch, allowing for long balls in behind for Raheem Sterling to chase and his persistence gave the Croatian defence real problems. The Manchester City winger has taken the brunt of criticism from the media and fans alike throughout the tournament but you couldn’t fault his work rate in the semi. Jesse Lingard and Dele Alli looked dangerous and Harry Kane was a constant threat in a performance reminiscent of the opening half hour against Tunisia. Despite the early goal and such a promising start to the game, England failed to add a second as chances came and went. The biggest opening fell to Kane, surely a goal at that stage of the game would have killed off Croatia and put England within touching distance of the final.

Half-time came too soon and the interval gave the Croatians a chance to regroup and change their approach. Croatia were able to get their key players on the ball more in the second half having been nothing more than bystanders for the first period. Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic were allowed to dictate play and find passes between the lines, but it was Ivan Perisic who turned the game on its head when he got in ahead of John Stones to snatch an equaliser. From that point there looked to be only one winner. England looked beat and you could sense the players knew they were in trouble with Croatia on top. The game wore on into extra time and penalties looked to be our best chance of progressing to that elusive FIFA World Cup™ showdown with France. That was until the partly injured Mario Mandzukic stole in ahead of Stones to snatch the win and break England hearts with just ten minutes to play. Croatia saw out the remaining few minutes against a beaten England and on the final whistle there were white shirts in teary heaps all over the pitch. Small margins cost the Three Lions in the end and they fell agonisingly short.

In a game where fine margins counted more than ever, whether it was Kane’s first-half opportunity, John Stone’s cleared-off-the-line header or Croatia hitting the post before their eventual winner, I could appreciate how painfully close The Three Lions came to getting over the line thanks to the Hisense U7A. The ULED tech meant every impossibly close call was there to see in specular quality. The combination of HDR, 4K, wide colour gamut and motion technology offered the ultimate true-to-life picture – there’s no way to get closer to the action without sitting with Gareth on the touchline.
I think it would be harsh to say this England team overachieved. They were there on merit last night and were deservedly in the last four of the competition after their hearty journey that captivated the nation. That said, as has happened all too many times before, the Three Lions failed to take the opportunity and have let slip what could be these players’ best chance of winning football’s greatest prize. When time passes and the dust settles, Harry Kane and co. will look back on a thrilling adventure as a young side that defied the odds, but ultimately it will be a feeling of overwhelming regret.

The third-place play-off against Belgium awaits on Saturday in the infamous game that no one wants to play. The match will provide a fitting bow out of the tournament for Southgate’s side, and will give the nation a final chance to show their appreciation for our boys for a magnificent tournament. On a personal level, it also gives Kane the chance to claim the golden boot, at least a small piece of individual history on offer for England’s captain and undeniably our one world class talent. Football may not be coming home after all, but the country will feel closer to our national side once again and will be full of pride for the squad that made them believe again.

The Armchair Reporter is tuning into the tournament with the Official TV of the FIFA World Cup™, the Hisense U7A 4K ULED TV. Specifically designed to offer the greatest possible sporting experience, there’s no better way to experience every moment of the beautiful game’s showpiece event, short of travelling to Russia!

Ben Groom
Hisense UK Armchair Reporter