3 Things We Learned as England Fell Short Against Classy Croatia in Their World Cup Semi-Final

Unfortunately for England, football won't be coming home this summer.


Despite a gutsy display from Gareth Southgate's side, Croatia prevailed 2-1 after extra time in Wednesday's FIFA World Cup semi-final in Moscow, as goals from Ivan Perisic and Mario Mandzukic meant that Kieran Trippier's brilliant early free kick was no more than a consolation.


The Three Lions were ultimately outplayed by more fluent opponents, despite an excellent first half display in which they could - and arguably should - have put the game to bed. Instead, inspired by their brilliant captain Luka Modric, Croatia rode out the storm and rarely looked like losing after Perisic's leveller.


Nevertheless, the acute disappointment of a deserved defeat shouldn't overshadow England's outstanding achievements in Russia. Even allowing for their relatively kind quarter-final draw, which pitted them against Sweden, the young Lions have comfortably surpassed most observers' expectations by even reaching a World Cup semi-final - only the third in England's history, and only their fifth semi-final in any major tournament.


Here are three of the most important lessons from Wednesday's honourable defeat for the Three Lions.

1. England Are Still Some Way Short of Being World Beaters

Gareth Southgate deserves enormous credit for the way in which he has forged real camaraderie in the England squad.


His young side also deserve plaudits for their displays in Russia. Jordan Pickford, Kieran Trippier and Harry Maguire have been revelations, Jesse Lingard looks comfortable at international level, and Harry Kane is likely to win the Golden Boot.


Unfortunately, the Croatia clash revealed that some age-old England weaknesses - a lack of ruthlessness up front, limited creativity and a tendency to panic under pressure - still need to be eliminated if the Three Lions are to be real contenders for silverware.

2. England May Need a Plan B Against World Class Midfielders

From an England fan's point of view, one of the most refreshing aspects of this World Cup is that the England manager had a clear tactical plan for his side.


For most of the tournament, Southgate's 3-5-2 formation proved extremely effective, and his intensive focus on set pieces paid off - nine of England's 12 goals in Russia have come from penalties, corners or free kicks. This also compensated for a lack of creativity in open play.


However, this formation also left Jordan Henderson looking exposed against Croatia's outstanding midfield. England need to find an alternative solution for the future.

3. France Will Underestimate Croatia at Their Peril

Les Bleus are the clear favourites for Sunday's final. It's one thing for Croatia to dominate Jordan Henderson in midfield. Doing the same to Ngolo Kante and Paul Pogba will be a far more daunting challenge.


Also, if Raheem Sterling can leave Croatia's centre backs looking ragged and flat-footed, just imagine what Kylian Mbappe might be able to do to them.


Nevertheless, the Vatreni have proved that they have what it takes to shock France. They showed tremendous flair to hammer Argentina, admirable grit to squeeze past Denmark and hosts Russia - and a combination of both to thwart England.

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