Born in the south east of Ireland, Simon put his life-long love of football to good use when he started a successful independent blog in 2010. That opened up an alternative route to a career in journalism, and having had work published across a number of sites and publications, Simon joined the staff at Spotlight Sports Group in 2018.
A valiant England team fell short in their quest to reach their first World Cup Final in 52 years last night, crashing out after extra time to an indefatigable Croatia side.
Kieran Trippier’s beautifully caressed free kick in the 5th minute of the contest at the Luzhniki Stadium had given England the perfect start, though the Three Lions couldn’t turn the rest of their first half dominance into more goals.
From there Croatia’s grip on the game seemed to tighten further with each minute that passed and when Ivan Perisic equalized in the 68th minute, the cracks in England’s resolve stretched from hairlines to widening fissures.
Really, Mario Mandzukic’s 109th minute winner was no more than Croatia deserved for their relentless pursuit of victory. But after this emotional exit, for once, the tournament post-mortems won’t be scathing lists of everything that’s wrong with English football. Instead they will be a celebration of how much is right.
Let’s take a closer look at how each of England’s players performed in Moscow:
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Jordon Pickford – 8
Arguably the goalkeeper of the tournament, Pickford maintained his remarkably high standards against Croatia. The Everton stopper had no chance for either goal, though he made some key saves in the second half when the Croatian pressure started to build.
Pickford’s distribution was excellent throughout and the 24-year old showed courage to throw himself in front of Mario Mandzukic in extra time when the Croatian striker looked certain to score.
Kyle Walker – 6
Walker was assured and effective in the first half, utilising his pace to nullify the Croatian threat down the left-hand side of the pitch. However, Walker has a habit of wobbling when things are going England’s way and his nervousness got the better of him again after Croatia equalized.
John Stones – 7
As galling as Stones’ lapse in concentration that allowed Mario Mandzukic to score the winning goal was, the incident shouldn’t be reason enough to decimate his overall performance. Stones was calm in possession and looked composed when defending for the majority of the game.
Harry Maguire – 6
Although his World Cup aerial dominance continued against Croatia, Maguire struggled to deal with the clever movement of the Vetreni players. Maguire looked much more jittery than usual, which is understandable given the importance of the occasion. He will learn an awful lot from this.
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Kieran Trippier – 8
Undoubtedly a shoe-in for the Team of the Tournament, Tripper became only the 3rd Englishman after Bobby Charlton (’66) and Gary Lineker (’90) to score in a World Cup Semi Final. Tripper was one of England’s better players again last night, though he might have done more to stop Perisic stealing in for the Croatian equalizer.
Ashley Young – 5
Really struggled to get to grips with the pace and movement of Ante Rebic. Young was guilty of repeatedly giving the ball away which did nothing to alleviate the pressure on the English defence. Young looked exhausted by the end and was replaced by Danny Rose in extra time.
Jordan Henderson – 5
Henderson tried his best to negate the passing powers of Luka Modric in the first half and largely succeeded in keeping the Real Madrid schemer quiet. From the first whistle of the second half however, Henderson was chasing shadows. With Modric pulling the strings, Henderson looked a completely lost and his own passing, on the rare occasions he got his foot on the ball, became erratic and unintelligent.
Deli Ali – 6
To his credit Deli Ali never hid from the ball and continually made himself available in midfield as a passing option for England’s defenders. Nevertheless, his impact when in possession was once again minimal. You can’t help but feel he would be better served playing much closer to Harry Kane. The entire second half seemed to pass him by and with his fitness deteriorating, Ali had nothing left to give in extra time.
Jesse Lingard – 6
Energetic but ineffectual, Lingard never stopped running, though he didn’t do enough to hurt Croatia when it mattered. Lingard snatched at the chances that did come his way, which suggests that he wasn’t feeling all that confident. Lingard covered more distance than any other England player last night.
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Raheem Sterling – 6
Sterling looked a huge threat in the first half, continuously turning and stretching a panicked Croatian defence. His movement was fantastic, but again his end product fell well below his high standards. Sterling’s poor decision making and tendency to dwell too long on the ball in dangerous areas was a major source of frustration in the second half.
Harry Kane – 6
Underserviced and downright uninvolved, Kane cut a disheartened figure at the tip of the English attack. Kane missed a fabulous chance to double England’s lead near the end of the first half, but even with two bites of the cherry, he couldn’t convert. The linesman had flagged for offside, though Kane didn’t know and had he scored, VAR would certainly have overruled the flag.
Marcus Rashford – 5
Couldn’t play his way into the game after coming on with 15 minutes of normal time to play. It didn’t help that England’s midfield couldn’t get the ball to him.
Danny Rose – 6
Was better in possession down the left than Ashley Young and used his pace against tired Croatian legs to good effect.
Eric Dier – 6
Came on too late to make a discernible impact on proceedings. Might have been introduced to take a penalty in the shootout.
Jamie Vardy – N/A
Was introduced with 8 minutes of extra time to play, though he touched the ball only once before the final whistle. His team mates simply didn’t have the energy to supply him.
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