The Three Lions’ failure to reach their first World Cup final in 52 years was greeted with desolation in the stadium in Moscow.
England’s largest travelling support of the tournament so far, estimated before the game to be up to 10,000, were in full voice throughout, urging their young Lions on.
The national side, 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.
A first World Cup final since 1966 and a showdown with France agonisingly slipped away.
The supporters were in dreamland when Kieran Trippier curled a David Beckham-esque free kick into the top corner in the fifth minute.
The 80,000-seater Luzhniki Stadium reverberated with the renditions of the national anthem, Three Lions (Football’s Coming Home) and the fans’ new favourite chant for manager Gareth Southgate to the tune of Whole Again by Atomic Kitten.
They were briefly silenced when Croatia equalised through Ivan Perisic in the middle of the second half.
Tense moments followed for the 12th man as Croatia tried to pile the pressure on and fans had their hearts in their mouths when the score was only kept level by some desperate England defending.
The crowd fell a little flat as the game went into extra time, with many perhaps fearing the prospect of penalties and the memory of the last time England made it so far at Italia 90 – a 4-3 penalty shootout loss to West Germany.
Then Mandzukic scored, giving Croatia the lead for the first time in the match, and there was no way back for England.
Around 7,000 England fans had managed to get hold of tickets through official channels, with 2,180 doing so via the England Supporters Travel Club tickets and the rest in Fifa sales.
Others would have haggled with touts and individual sellers to try and get hold of the most sought-after ticket in town.
The official attendance was given as 78,011.
Andy Bradley, 42, from Hull, East Yorkshire, was among the throng of despondent England fans leaving the Moscow venue.
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? For 70 minutes we battered them.
“We take it on the chin, we move on.
“England we’re proud of you, that’s all I’ve got to say.”
Parv Moondi, 49, from Norwich, was heading out of the Luzhniki and back to central Moscow.
He said: “What was it two crosses two goals? We can at least defend two crosses.
“I just feel so disappointed.
“I was in Nice to watch us lose too Iceland, I was in Kiev to lose against Italy.
“This was the dream, we could’ve made it.
“They played their best, it obviously wasn’t to be.”
John Ryan, 33, from Coventry, was also in the Luzhniki to witness the defeat.<br>He said: “I’m gutted. They should have turned up, it’s the semi-final of a World Cup.
“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.”