Even a casual fan would have scoffed few weeks ago on the possibility of England reaching the semi finals of the FIFA World Cup 2018. Post the unsuccessful attempts at glory by the Golden Generation of England, English supporters had given up all hopes of a half decent outcome.
Meanwhile Croatia was silently and humbly riding on a string of brilliant performances, match after match and round after round. What took place as the two sides collided, was one of the most interesting matches of the World Cup.
English dreams of the past
One cannot question the desire of either of the teams, since both of the nations had historical significance coming into this fixture. But there was a certain difference in the energy and spirit of the two semi finalists.
It took an inspired comeback from the Croatian side to put an end to England's almost miraculous run in this World Cup. For a good one hundred plus minutes, the massive fan base of The Three Lions had dared to dream again.
With clenched teeth and crossed fingers, ardent England football supporters had begun to hope for the unthinkable. The pain at the end of it was a familiar one. So near and yet so far.
The Croatian resolve
And yet, on the other side was the joy of a barely twenty seven year old country. Croatia did not beat their chests even after playing some legitimate contender quality football over the rounds.
They did not leave conceited notes in their dressing rooms. Hell, they didn't even underestimate the young England team. They performed when and where it mattered the most!
To be honest, Croatia was the deserving winner. They played with the heart and grit of a seasoned team. While you could see Modric and crew take control of the game late in the second half with poise and grace, Southgate's men offered contrasting emotions. A hint of desperation and despair started to leak in their demeanor.
The road to the semi finals
But then again, it was a young and inexperienced English side. It had both positive and negative outlooks to it. However, giving credit where it is due, England had an amazing tournament.
They faced mass criticism going into the World Cup and absolutely nothing was expected of them. Going from obvious underdogs to the semi finals has been an achievement in its own right.
Even if they did not play many top tier teams, the brand of football this young crop of footballers put on the pitch has been nothing short of exciting. With the right amount of coaching, maturing and gelling along they can be serious contenders in the years to come.
After all, they were able to instill faith in English football once again. These young men led by their level headed manager did take the world by storm.
At the end of it all, there was a heart warming moment escaped by no one. When the England team came on the pitch for one last time, the English faithful chanted and sang a rendition as a tribute to manager Gareth Southgate.
This will remain etched in the minds of everyone as a beautiful memory of this World Cup. It is times and moments like this one that makes us affirm that football is much more than just a sport. Take a bow England, and take a bow Croatia!Published 14 Jul 2018, 12:25 IST