THE evening started with such high hopes and optimism.

But it ended with crushing disappointment and the end of the World Cup dream.

Tens of millions of fans in the UK and 10,000 in the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow were united in raucous delight as the Three Lions took an early lead over Croatia.

In bars and clubs across the country, fans jumped up and screamed as the ball hit the net, before hugging one another.

Roads were almost deserted as most of the population tuned in for the big occasion.

Thousands queued outside bars in Old Christchurch Road in the minutes before kick-off. Tension was high in Sharkeys in Bournemouth ahead of the start of the game. Hundreds of people gathered around televisions in the bar.

There were boos as the Croatians walked onto the pitch, but resounding cheers every time Gareth Southgate was shown on the screen.

And many of those who spoke to the Daily Echo predicted - with nervous optimism - that football really was coming home.

Caryn Webb, the aunt of former AFC Bournemouth player George Webb, said: “We’re going to win.

“I’ve got no doubt at all. I know we can do it.”

Tina May, 28, said: “I’m not a football fan but I love the World Cup. It’s just been absolutely amazing so far and I’ve got my fingers crossed.”

However, after Croatia’s second goal, the pressure began to show, and there was heartbreak for many when the whistle finally blew.

Thousands flooded out of bars and into Old Christchurch Road to commiserate with each other.

One man sat alone with his head in his hands outside The George Tapps. Others let off red and white smoke bombs and chanted ‘England Till I Die.’

Philippa Elderidge said: “It’s the first time my friends and I have been into the football so it does feel really disappointing.

“We’re all gutted at the way it’s gone.”

Student Zoe Newman said: “It’s disappointing. I think it was close and they were lucky. England have been brilliant.”

Luke Costas, an engineer from Bournemouth, said: “To be honest, I’m absolutely distraught at how it’s ended, but I think we should all be proud of how far we’ve come.

“It’s been an amazing year and it’s hard to look back at it without feeling really chuffed.”

His comments were echoed by George Evans, who told the Echo: “I’m really proud of the boys, obviously, they did absolutely stunningly to get through to the semi-finals.

“You can’t wish for more for your country to get as far as you possibly can. Obviously, the whole country believed it was coming home so it’s a bit heartbreaking.

“They’re welcome home, though.

Peter Twamley ended his night on a cheerful note, despite admitting he was “devastated”.

“At least it’s the Euros in two years’ time,” he said.