Regrets mixed with pride as England fans digest World Cup heartbreak

Bitter disappointment was mixed with pride for England fans who witnessed the Three Lions' lose their first World Cup semi-final in decades.

Desolation and dreams of what might have been littered the path out of Luzhniki Stadium, in Moscow, as supporters trudged towards the metro and into the night.

The largest travelling support of the tournament so far, estimated before the game to be up to 10,000, were at Russia's biggest stage to witness the national side's failure to reach their first World Cup final in 52 years.

The Three Lions, with an average age of just over 26 making them the third youngest at the tournament, fell to a heartbreaking 2-1 defeat after extra time following a goal by Mario Mandzukic.

Croatia v England - FIFA World Cup 2018 - Semi Final - Luzhniki Stadium
Croatia's Mario Mandzukic seals England's fate (Aaron Chown/PA)

A first World Cup final since 1966 and a showdown with France agonisingly slipped away.

John Ryan, 33, from Coventry, was in the Luzhniki to witness the defeat.

He said: "I'm gutted.

"They should have turned up, it's the semi-final of a World Cup.

"They haven't been there for 28 years.

"Fair enough they are a young team but they needed to turn up tonight. And put in a performance. Disappointing.

"In the first half, give them credit they did play relatively well, in the second half, bottle jobs.

"Extra time, I knew it was on the cards we weren't going to win that."

Jason Kay, 49, also from Coventry, simply added: "See you in four years' time."

But Andy Bradley, 42, from Hull, felt the team had done the nation proud.

He said: "They were the better team, that's all that happened.

"Semi-finals, they've done what they had to do, they took us to the semi-finals.

"What more could we ask for?

"70 minutes we battered them.

"We take it on the chin, we move on.

Croatia v England - FIFA World Cup 2018 - Semi Final - Luzhniki Stadium
England players salute their fans after the match (Adam Davy/PA)

"England we're proud of you, that's all I've got to say."

Parv Moondi, 49, form Norwich, was also among those trudging out of the Luzhniki and back to central Moscow.

He said: "I just feel so disappointed.

"I was in Nice to watch us lose to Iceland, I was in Kiev to lose against Italy.

"This was the dream, we could've made it, we could have done it.

"They played their best, it obviously wasn't to be.

"I've been to lots of failures and I thought this was the time.

"We had our flights booked for next Monday - we booked two flights, we weren't that optimistic, we have flights tomorrow as well."

His friend Joe Carter, 43, from York, added: "We really thought it was going to be different - this was our chance.

To everyone who supported us.

To everyone who believed this time was different.

To everyone who wasn't afraid to dream.

To everyone who knows this is only the beginning.

Thank you. We hope we made you proud. #threelionspic.twitter.com/jH8lYMB2E0

-- England (@England) July 11, 2018

"This was Croatia to get to the World Cup final - it's not going to get better than this I don't think."

England's players, like the stars of the Italia 90 semi-final penalty shootout defeat to West Germany before them, now face a third place play-off against Belgium but it is unclear how many fans will remain behind to cheer them on to the very end.

The game will kick off in Saint Petersburg on Saturday, before Croatia play France in the final in Moscow on Sunday.

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