Gareth Southgate has vowed his England players will bounce back stronger from their World Cup heartbreak after missing out on a place in the final.
Kieran Trippier gave England a semi-final lead against Croatia, but Ivan Perisic equalised before Mario Mandzukic netted an extra-time winner to clinch a final spot against France.
England fans inside the Luzhniki Stadium stayed behind in Moscow to give manager Southgate and his players a heroes’ send-off.
Captain Harry Kane admitted the pain of defeat will take him and his team-mates some time to get over, but Southgate is confident England now have a bright future.
“The reaction from the fans at the end shows you everything they’ve given,” said Southgate. “We’ve come an incredibly long way in a short space of time. The whole thing is beyond where we thought we might go. Tonight we weren’t quite there. But the team will be stronger for it.
“As we reflect, there will be positives but it’s difficult tonight. We were so close to what was unimaginable at the start.
“We’ve left everything out there. We’ll look at the goals and chances, but I don’t think we could have given more over these six or seven weeks.
“I think we are where we are as a team. We’ve come an incredibly long way in a short space of time… Colombia, Sweden.. the whole thing is probably further than we thought we would be able to go.”
Kane said: “It hurts, it’ll hurt for a while, but we can hold our heads up high. It was a fantastic journey, we got further than anyone thought we could, we’ve just got to learn from it.
“It’s tough. We’re gutted, you know. We worked so hard. The fans were amazing. It was a tough game, a 50-50 game. I’m sure there was stuff we could have done better, but we worked as hard as we could.
“We created some good chances, being 1-0 up. Maybe we dropped too deep at times. In big games, it’s small margins. There’s a lot we could have done better, but they played well. It’s been great to get to this stage, but we wanted to go on and win it.
“We’ve fallen a bit short. It just hurts. It shows we can win knockout games – the next stage is to go one further. We’ve got to dust ourselves down and go again in a couple of years.
“There are a lot of positives to take from this tournament. It’s a big stepping stone from two years ago.”