Belfast Telegraph

I'm full of pride for my Lions: Southgate

 

By Adrian Rutherford

A devastated Gareth Southgate said England can leave Russia with pride despite their World Cup dreams being shattered in Moscow.

Mario Mandzukic's extra time goal sent Croatia through to Sunday's final against France.

Southgate admitted the squad was hurting badly - but insisted they had done their country proud.

And he pledged his young side would learn from their journey in Russia and come again.

"I'm hugely proud of what they have done," he said.

"I couldn't have asked them to give any more for me or for the country."

England, aiming to make their first final since 1966, led after five minutes through Kieran Trippier.

But Ivan Perisic's second half strike took the game into extra time, with Mandzukic winning it in the 109th minute with a sweet strike from six yards. Southgate added: "You want to take those opportunities in life - the dressing room… it's a very difficult place at the moment."

But the England boss insisted his side's journey to the last four had created memories that would last a lifetime.

"I wanted them to create memories that would be with them for ever - for them and for others - and we've all had an incredible experience," Southgate added.

"That is what sport should be about. You give everything you have, you build friendships with your team.

"With international sport you give everything for your country and you play in a way that you hope connects with the fans.

"I think the players have played and conducted themselves in a manner that has absolutely done that.

"If we've brought joy home - which I know we have - then I know that's been worthwhile and we should be proud.

"We are hugely disappointed not to take the country one step further and give them what everybody hoped for, but in time I'm sure we'll reflect on the progress that we've made."

England made a dream start through Trippier, who curled home a free-kick from 20 yards in the fifth minute.

They had chances to stretch their lead with Harry Kane and Jesse Lingard going close. But Croatia took control of the game in the second half, levelling

John Stones saw a header cleared off the line in extra time, before Juventus striker Mandzukic's winner.

At the final whistle, England's players collapsed to the ground, some of them in tears, but they were cheered by the fans as they left the field.

Southgate added: "I think it's clear to everybody the progress that has been made in terms of the level of performance and the togetherness of the group.

"There are a lot of things that have been hugely positive for us - experiences that we have come through that an inexperienced team has to go through to get better.

"Compared to two years ago, this is a hugely different journey and hugely different experiences.

"To become a winning team, these are the hurdles that you have to overcome, and we have surpassed many of those over the last few weeks."

Croatia, who knocked out Denmark and hosts Russia in the previous two rounds, will face France back at the Luzhniki Stadium in Sunday's final.

England will now play Belgium in Saturday's third place play-off in St Petersburg.

Belfast Telegraph

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