England fans will be reeling for the next few days after Wednesday night’s gut-wrenching defeat to Croatia in Moscow.
Gareth Southgate’s men had one foot in the World Cup final after going into half-time with a 1-0 lead thanks to Kieran Trippier’s fifth-minute free-kick.
However, it’s Croatia who will play France this Sunday thanks to goals from Ivan Perisic and Mario Mandzukic.
England, meanwhile, will take on Belgium this Saturday in the third/fourth place play-off.
Finishing third - or fourth, for that matter - would still have been regarded as a magnificent achievement before the start of the tournament. But because of the way the draw opened up for England this summer, it’s hard not to feel that this was a huge missed opportunity.
Among the former England players to give their immediate reaction to the Three Lions’ defeat was Peter Crouch.
The Stoke City centre-forward, writing in his latest column for the Daily Mail, perfectly summed up the feelings of just about every single England fan.
Crouch sums up the feelings of England fans
“Gutted. Absolutely gutted,” Crouch confessed. “I can’t find any other words to describe the feelings I have after thinking England were ready to conquer the world.
“I went all in to say football was coming home and for long periods of Wednesday night, I thought the dream was coming true.
“It started so well. I watched the first 45 minutes with increasing admiration. We all recognise the 4-1 win over Holland at Euro 96 as the most exciting England performance of the modern era, but I’ve never seen us more composed.
“This is what we have always wanted, to see. England dominant, full of confidence and players showing they were made for this stage. Among the many stand-out performers, nobody caught my eye more than John Stones, who was so good.
“I’ve always had time for him, he’s a classy defender. If only his header in the first half of extra time, which was cleared off the line, had dropped in… that would have been the game, there and then.
“That would have been immortality for these boys, who have given us so much joy this summer.”
'I was nervous going into the second half'
However, Crouch admits he felt nervous heading into the second half because he knew exactly how good Croatia were.
“But for all that dominance and the lead we had, I was nervous going into the second half,” he added. “I’ve talked Croatia up several times over the course of the past month.
“They are a proper team and the way they fought back illustrated all their qualities.
“You have to give credit where it is due and they deserve to be in the World Cup final. Croatia have shown so much character that I wouldn’t bet against them finishing the job against France. I just wish it was us.”
Well said, Peter. Croatia deserve credit for their performance but that doesn’t make it any easier to accept as an England fan.
It wouldn’t be a huge surprise if Zlatko Dalić’s side now go on to lift the World Cup this weekend.
But England fans will always be left wondering what might have been.
Although Southgate has a talented squad at his disposal with an exciting new generation set to come through, it might be many years - perhaps even decades - before the Three Lions get a better opportunity to win world football’s most prestigious trophy.News Now - Sport News