England football fans break into tears after Croatia scored their side’s second goal as they watch the 2018 FIFA World Cup semifinal match between England and Croatia on a big screen on Wednesday at Flat Iron Square, South London, Britain. Photo: Collected

Some England soccer fans sobbed while others looked to the future with confidence after their once improbable dreams of a first World Cup final in more than 50 years were dashed by Croatia on Wednesday.
“We blew our chances,” 17-year-old Josh Ogunde said after watching the 2-1 semi-final defeat with friends near Trafalgar Square in central London as the disappointed crowds streamed home.
“I just believe we can come back another time, and I hope before I die I see England win the World Cup,” Ogunde said.
Matt Reece, 25, who works in marketing, said England had far outperformed the low expectations of them when the tournament began.
But he lamented England’s failure to take full advantage of what appeared an unusually easy route to the final, avoiding most of the heavyweight teams in Russia.
“They’ve been unbelievable the whole tournament but at the end of the day, it was our best chance ever and we haven’t taken it,” Reece said.
After watching their team stumble at major tournaments for decades, often falling to much smaller nations, England supporters had begun to think that 2018 might be a different story. If they had beaten Croatia, England would have reached only their second World Cup final. In their other appearance, in 1966, in London, they entered popular folklore by beating West Germany, an achievement that many fans have long thought they would never see again.
Despite taking the lead early in the first half on Wednesday, England suffered the familiar story of World Cup heartbreak as Croatia equalised in the second half and then claimed the winner in the second period of extra time. In Moscow, some England fans emerged from the Luzhniki Stadium in tears and being hugged by others while jubilant Croatian supporters celebrated around them.
“It was a good game. Croatia deserved to win,” Mark Burcher, 50, said. Asked how far he thought the still young England team could progress in the next World Cup, he said: “This far, if not the final.”
“A couple of weeks ago, I would have taken this result,” said one man in a red England shirt who declined to give his name. “It’s something to have got this far.”
But Raj Singh, a Canadian who supports England because he has relatives in Britain, said the team may have passed up their best opportunity in a lifetime to reach a World Cup final. “No way will they have such an easy route next time. Look at the other teams they’ll be up against. France are a young team, Brazil are young,” he said.
When the dust settles and the English media begins its post-mortem of Wednesday night’s events, fingers will no doubt be pointed at how, when and where England threw it all away.
There must always be a scapegoat and if Raheem Sterling somehow manages to escape blame on this occasion, his Manchester City team-mate John Stones might not be so lucky. Stones was guilty of ball-watching as Mario Mandžukić crept in behind him for what proved to be the game’s winning goal and if you’re disappointed with him for that, just imagine how he must be feeling right now. But one momentary lapse in concentration shouldn’t detract from what an outstanding game Stones had at the end of what has been a very impressive tournament from the 24-year-old.
Against a fearsome Croatian forward line, he won countless aerial duels and interceptions, his positioning was almost perfect and his calmness when bringing the ball out from the back was crucial to his side’s build-up play.
Yes he made a mistake and yes there is plenty of room for improvement in his game, but players like Stones offer England a very bright future and England fans must celebrate and support them, in good times and in bad.
Football may not be coming home but when the England squad land at Heathrow airport next week, they deserve a rapturous heroes welcome.
Nobody expected England to get as far as they did at this World Cup and though it hurts in the immediate aftermath of Wednesday’s elimination, this has been a summer to remember for these players and their supporters.
Southgate has become a national hero and his charges have brought hope to a pretty hopeless place by playing the game as it should be played – with humility, respectfulness and grace.
Unlike the semi-final eliminations of 1990 and 1996, there should be no tears and no inquest after this one. For a generation of England fans, this is as good as it’s ever been, and the future has so much more in store.
In 2013, former FA chairman Greg Dyke made the bold prediction that England would reach the semi-final of 2020 European Championships before going on to win the 2022 World Cup. Dyke’s proclamation seemed slightly ludicrous at the time but since then, England U17s have won a World Cup and the senior team have just made it to a semi-final.
England are ahead of schedule in that regard and with four more years of development under Southgate, who knows what this young and talented crop of players could go on to achieve.