THE Luzhniki Stadium DJ felt the need to fill the place with hip hop and R&B music. But this was a night for a more traditional genre of sporting sound.

Croats roared long and lustily into the Moscow night as the rest of the place emptied before Wednesday turned to Thursday in the Russian capital. They were toasting history thanks to the two terrifically taken goals that had been scored down their end. They were the goals that would matter most on this breathtaking night of semi-final football.

But as midnight approached they were toasting more goals. Five of the Croatian players’ young children were out on the glistening green in bare feet, two of them with Ivan Perisic’s No.4 on their back. Much like he had done for 120 minutes and more the kids would run and run, all the way from half way, and kick a ball half their size between the posts as the red and white hordes behind the goal roared again.

It was a joyous end to an unforgettable night for the Croats. But in truth, this had been a night for the grown-ups.

Gareth Southgate’s young Lions came off at half-time a goal to the good and were dreaming of being back here in a few days to face France with immortality on the line. But while the young dream, the adults do. In the 75 minutes of football that would follow – the 75 minutes that mattered – Croatia’s veterans clawed their way back into the contest and then utterly dominated.

They unnerved England, and Southgate and his players looked lost in the lights of the Luzhniki. Kieran Trippier’s magnificent free-kick just five minutes in didn’t deserve to be reduced to a mere footnote but that will be where it rests. The history books will also show that Southgate didn’t make changes to his line-up until Croatia had already grabbed the game by the throat. That should be a smudge on what had been a pretty pristine record here in Russia.

As Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, the brilliant Perisic and Mario Mandzukic took command, England inexplicably looked the leggier side. This in spite of the fact that Croatia would go all the way to 120 minutes for the third straight game.

Bodies let England down, but minds too. Southgate’s hesitancy to make changes was mirrored by mental mistakes from some of his key men. Kyle Walker and Trippier switched off to allow Perisic steal in for the 68th-minute equaliser. From there England wobbled terribly and looked nothing like the young, vibrant side that had lit up Russia in recent weeks. When Manzukic pounced on John Stones’ unforgivably lax defending to dagger home the winner just after the break in extra-time, this was all too familiar.

There was nothing coming from anywhere for Southgate’s side. But, most glaringly, the heart of the battle had been dominated by Modric, Rakitic and Marcelo Brozovic when the game was still on the line. Jordan Henderson had shuttled manfully but he and England were stretched enough to tire those bodies and minds.

England last reached this stage of a World Cup in 1990 when David Platt and Paul Gascoigne held things down in the middle even through the tears. In nearly three decades since, a golden age of midfielders came and promptly went, achieving the square root of damn all on the international stage. In fact, midfield meltdowns became the hallmark of English exits.

As if for old time’s sake, Roy Hodgson marked the final 17 minutes of the last World Cup in Brazil by sending Steven Gerrard in to link up with Frank Lampard one last time. Fittingly, two of the greatest operators of any era couldn’t find a way to unlock Costa Rica’s reserves. The exits thereafter featured every pillar of that generation in a range of ill-fitting axes: In 2010 Lampard and Gareth Barry pushed Gerrard on to the left; in 2006 it was Gerrard, Lampard and Owen Hargreaves; in 2002 Nicky Butt and Paul Scholes and in 1998 David Beckham, Paul Ince and Scholes.

As English fans flowed into Moscow in recent days, their travelling number swelling five-fold, plenty of those names could be spotted on the back of old replica shirts wandering around the capital.

Southgate has had plenty of master-strokes. Ending the incessant debate over England’s midfield partnership by turning it into a one-man job might be one of his finest. Henderson had been one of the stand-outs of this campaign, so often standing alone in midfield as Jesse Lingard and Dele All flitted further up. With Stones being the first point of distribution, Henderson would spend the majority of his time marshalling.

But against arguably the finest midfield combination at the tournament, this would undoubtedly be the sternest test of Southgate’s strategy. He passed up the opportunity to reinforce the middle by bringing Eric Dier in to help the Modric-Rakitic chase. On the flipside, Zlatko Dalic brought Inter Milan’s Brozovic back into the engine room to free up his two playmakers even more.

It was Modric who inexplicably gave away the free-kick from which Trippier curled home the opener. Roared on by the reinforcements who had flooded into Moscow, England were dreaming anew and had the chances to make it a reality but inexplicably spurned them.

This Croatia side are a truly remarkable beast, forged not in gilded academies but in battles just like this. They knew that it hadn’t yet been decided. Not nearly. They rose slowly, still unable to find the sharp, probing passing that had been a hallmark of their early run here.

Instead they fought another way, by tiring England and pouncing on those errors – Perisic looking as though he’d decided the game all on his own after scoring and then hitting a post. Captain Harry Kane was cut adrift and ineffective anyway; Alli and Lingard not nearly involved enough either. Southgate’s back three wobbled horribly in the face of its first true test, too.

Croatia and Mandzukic would eventually prove too much for them. Another extra special comeback from the extra-time specialists.

France lie in wait in Sunday’s final knowing that the battle will never be truly won until Croatia are beaten out of sight. Southgate now knows as much too. His young side will learn and surely be back for more nights like this.

They’ll likely need a stronger centre to make it beyond them though.