England’s World Cup dreams came to a crushing end after Croatia rallied to prevent Gareth Southgate’s men reaching the country’s first final in 52 years.
Football will not be coming home at the end of an extraordinary summer after the Three Lions’ hopes of replicating the heroes of 1966 were extinguished in Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium semi-final.
Kieran Trippier’s exceptional early free-kick had England dreaming of facing France on Sunday, but Croatia will line-up in their first World Cup final after Ivan Perisic levelled and Mario Mandzukic struck to secure a 2-1 extra-time win.
While few predicted Southgate’s side getting anywhere near Sir Alf Ramsey’s champions at the start of the summer, this bold, young side had looked capable of doing the unthinkable in Russia.
England’s hopes grew as their third World Cup semi-final started with a fifth-minute stunner as Trippier curled home a free-kick that his idol David Beckham would have been proud of.
But the Three Lions were unable to press home their advantage and Perisic snuck ahead of Kyle Walker to draw Croatia level midway through the second half, taking the match to extra-time.
Southgate, unsurprisingly, kept his composure despite suffering more semi-final heartache, having missed the crucial penalty in the Euro 96 shootout defeat to Germany.
It is a galling evening for his team but the future looks bright, even if it is hard after a gut punch that leaves them facing Belgium in Saturday’s third-placed play-off.
England fans did their best to raise their players after putting country over cost and complications to be in Moscow.
They have been given no little excitement this summer and were able to celebrate a superb fifth-minute opener.
Trippier continued his brilliant World Cup by opening his international goal account in style, bending a free-kick that beat the wall and static Danijel Subasic.
“Football’s coming home” echoed around the cavernous Luzhniki as England celebrated, with Harry Maguire looking to quickly add to the fifth-minute opener.
Soon it was Croatia’s woodwork rattling. Having collected a through ball from Jesse Lingard and reacted well to his initial attempt being unconvincingly stopped, Harry Kane’s strike from an acute angle was directed on to the post by Subasic.
The offside flag would have seen it chalked off had it gone in against a Croatia side belatedly showing signs of life, with John Stones impressing at the heart of defence and Jordan Pickford denying Ante Rebic .
Lingard missed a good chance before the first half came to a controversial close, with furious Croatia remonstrating with officials after Maguire appeared to hold Dejan Lovren in the box.
The second period got off to a testy start but Croatia were now looking the brighter side.
Shortly after Walker took a Perisic shot to the groin, the 29-year-old delivered a devastating blow by edging ahead of the defender to direct home a superb Sime Vrsaljko cross.
The leveller threw England off kilter and Perisic was tormentor-in-chief, looking set to punish increasing defensive confusion after showing great skill before firing a low strike that hit the foot of the post.
Pickford denied Mandzukic and Perisic clipped over the bar with the goalkeeper off his line as the match entered the closing stages.
Pickford was the player that came to England’s rescue in stoppage-time, clattering Mandzukic as he denied the striker turning in Perisic’s cross from the left.
Marcelo Brozovic almost caught the Three Lions napping from a free-kick shortly into the second period that was four minutes old when Pickford’s goal was breached again.
Mandzukic caught the England defence napping, sneaking in between Stones and Maguire to fire home from Perisic’s hopeful header.
Not that it mattered. Croatia did enough to crush England dreams.