It's Not Coming Home

Don't be sad that it's over, be glad that it happened. England's biggest game in, ooh, four days, has had a strange effect on the general population. For four days folks have been prone to spontaneous outbursts of "it's coming home" (a real toughie on a harmonica, I can tell you), or of extolling the virtues of one of the spicier curries. Even if football doesn't come home, the positive effect the antics of the current team have had on the country as a whole cannot be discounted. Folks have generally been smiling about things, and even those who don't "do" football are admitting a growing attachment to the beautiful game, and more of an understanding of those who do.

From a Sunderland perspective, there was the small matter of a rearranged fixture at Darlo - fancy planning it for the original date when there was a chance England would be playing - what negativity! Aalreet, marra? Ah, the traditional first-game-since-last-season greeting that usually signals the return of football. The world cup has sort of messed that up, in a very good way, but it's our first sight of our new manager and lots of new players, at a ground most of us haven't visited before - mainly because it's a rugby ground. That's over, we lost, let's turn our attention to the national team again. Of course, it wouldn't be the build-up to the all-European semis if the Sunday papers hadn't wheeled out a has-been, and this time it was Roberto "if you shoot often enough the odd one will go in" Carlos. He claimed that we're only moaning about Neymar's play-acting because we're jealous. Look, he's a fabulously gifted player meaning that we probably are jealous of his talent, but even he realised he was overdoing his rolls and reduced them for the Belgium game. Next up, Steven Taylor on how he taught Harry Maguire all he knows about heading the ball.

There seemed to be more folks in the Green Tree than there were at Darlo the previous evening, and all in a positive mood. We started the game with the usual eleven, which was right, in a positive frame of mind, with confidence in our ability and with hopes of progressing - and justifiably so, but it didn't work in the long run. Despite that early beaut from Trippier, which once again had us in danger of a quick trip through the floor to the cellar, and the almost total domination of a first half that should have brought at least one more goal, we somehow let the Croats get on top after the break. In another world, another game, Kane's shot would have hit the post and gone in off the keeper's face, Lovren would have received at least one yellow for his persistent fouling, and a Croatian leg wouldn't have got in the way of an England shot. The talk during half time was of how many we should have had, and how many we would inevitably get in the second half.

Ah, the second half. Whatever Croatia put in their tea should be available on the NHS (before it disappears) as a cure-all, as it seemed to switch on their brains and give extra spring to their step. England produced an truly insipid 45 minutes, meaning we were lucky to still be in it for extra time, but I think Alli was ineffective and left on far too long when a more muscular Choftus-Leek might have got us somewhere. Far from being the knackered old wrecks that eventually slugged out their previous game, Croatia seemed to grow in strength as the game went on and lapped up the extra time with Modric belying his death's door appearance to pull the strings. Of the subs, Rashford looked lively, Dier didn't do a great deal, and I can't remember Vardy getting a kick as Croatia stopped the through balls. Pickford had no chance with either goal, but expect Gary Neville to find fault - mind, I've seen them disallowed for having a foot that close to the defender's head, but there you go. My grapes aren't sour, Croatia deserved to win in the end.

It's over. But it's been a blast, it's made a (inter)national hero of Pickford, we've all enjoyed it (at home or in Russia), it's united the country, and remember - this team has another three or four major tournaments left in it. Hopefully it'll win one of them. At least we can now turn our thoughts to proper football, the sort with broad red and white stripes in it, get rid of the "it's coming home" ringtones, and put the England shirts back in their special place, beneath the Sunderland ones, in the cupboard. Hartlepool? Bring it on - I never could get away with third place playoffs.