England manager Gareth Southgate believes his squad can head home from the World Cup with pride after their semi-final exit.
The Three Lions suffered an extra-time 2-1 defeat at the hands of Croatia in Moscow, after a roller-coaster game which saw England take an early lead through Kieran Trippier, only for a second-half equaliser from Ivan Perisic to take the game to extra time and set up Mario Mandzukic’s late winner.
- FIFA 2018 World Cup
- Wednesday 11 July 2018
- Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow
- Live on ITV
But Southgate paid tribute to all of his players and staff, after a summer adventure which will remain long in the memory of all England fans and will continue on Saturday when they face Belgium in the third place game.
"We've come a long way in an incredibly short space of time,” said Southgate, whose young squad reached the last four for the first time since 1990, as well as winning their first ever penalty shootout in the World Cup Finals.
“After the experiences of the matches with Colombia and Sweden and the whole thing, it's probably beyond where we thought we might be able to go, so tonight in the end, we weren't quite there.
"But the team will be stronger for that and as we reflect over the next few days, there will be a lot more positives.
“Tonight though, it's a lot more difficult for us to take having come so close to what was almost unimaginable at the start.
“The biggest thing is that when you see the supporters at the end and their reaction, that tells you what the players have given, not just tonight but over the whole period.
"I can't ask any more of them than what the players and staff have given.
"We've left everything out there, you can look at the goals and the chances, but I don't think over the six or seven weeks we've been together we could've given any more.”
As for the game itself, Southgate was pleased with aspects of his team’s performance against an experienced and wily Croatian side, who will now play France in Sunday’s World Cup Final.
"I think in the first half, we were really good and we maybe could've got another and in periods throughout the game we had chances.
"There was a spell in the second half when they got the goal and their tails were really up and we had to weather the storm and lost our way a little bit.
"And possibly at that moment, the experience of being ahead in a big game like this, we were hanging on a little bit rather than trying to control the game.
"We got some control back in extra time and showed some more composure.
"But knockout football is fine margins and when you have spells in the game and when you have chances against real quality, you've got to make them count.
"We probably needed that second goal earlier in the game.”