2018 FIFA WC: Gareth Southgate hails young Lions’ progress after falling short to Croatia

XtraTime Web Desk: ​England manager Gareth Southgate emphasised the positives of the Three Lions’ FIFA World Cup campaign on Wednesday night, despite the heartbreak of a 2-1 defeat to Croatia after extra time in the Three Lions’ World Cup semi-final at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.

England took an early lead through a stunning Kieran Trippier free kick, but were eventually punished for wasting first half chances as Ivan Perisic and Mario Mandzukic overturned  Croatia’s deficit. It earned them a place in Sunday’s final against France, and sent England out.

Speaking after the game, and quoted by the BBC, Southgate was full of praise for his young side’s achievements. “To become a winning team there are hurdles you have to overcome – and we’ve surpassed many of them,” he said, adding: “Many of our players have come of age on the international stage.”

Nevertheless, Southgate acknowledged that England had missed an excellent chance to reach their first World Cup final for 52 years.

“Tonight was a wonderful opportunity and you can’t guarantee they’ll come again,” he admitted.

England certainly didn’t take their opportunities in the first half, as Harry Kane and Jesse Lingard squandered their chances to extend the Three Lions’ 1-0 lead.

Yet Southgate sounded optimistic about the future of his youthful side. “We want to be a team who hit quarter-finals, semi-finals and finals,” he asserted. “We’ve proved to ourselves and our country that’s possible.”

Southgate also hailed the progress made by England since their shock defeat to Iceland in the last 16 of the 2016 European Championship.

“I’m remarkably proud of the group of players – the reaction of the supporters compared to two years ago shows the country are proud of the way we played,” he said.

England still have to play the third place final against Belgium on Saturday, which Southgate described as ‘not a game any team wants to play in’. Nevertheless, he insisted that his side would take the match seriously.

“We will want to give a performance of huge pride,” he said.

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