MOSCOW • England manager Gareth Southgate said that his team need to "suffer" their loss to Croatia in the World Cup semi-finals and understand the opportunity they passed up before pondering the positives from their remarkable campaign in Russia.
Southgate's team made a fine start to their quest to become the first England side to reach the final in 52 years but faded in the second half before going down 2-1 to the Croats after extra time at the Luzhniki Stadium.
Kieran Trippier had given England the lead as early as the fifth minute with a superb free kick, only for Ivan Perisic to equalise and Mario Mandzukic to claim the winner in the 109th minute.
Given that England arrived in Russia as rank outsiders, however, Southgate was asked to detail the positives from a campaign that appears to have repaired the strained relationship between fans and the team.
"I think that's maybe something for a couple of days' time, at the moment we all feel the pain of this defeat," he told reporters. "Did we expect to be in this position? I don't realistically think any of us did. But, when you've got to this point and played as well as we have, you want to take these opportunities in life.
"The dressing room is a really difficult place at the moment. There will in time be positives to take, it's very hard now to put that into context, it's a bit too soon, really, because I think you have to suffer the result a little bit. It's too easy to sometimes move on too quickly."
Gifted a relatively soft draw by the early exit of a number of traditional World Cup superpowers, England reached the semi-finals of a major tournament for the first time since Euro 1996, when Southgate was part of the team. They had only previously been in the World Cup semi-finals in 1966, when they won the title on home soil, and in 1990 when they finished fourth in Italy.
England's World Cup semi-final appearances ending in defeat.
Southgate added that playing regularly in big matches was a key stage of development for his young side and that the way they dropped away in the second half was perhaps a result of their inexperience.
"Maybe (that was) a consequence of being ahead and being the least experienced team in the tournament," said the 47-year-old, whose team will play Belgium in the third-place play-off tomorrow.
"Whether that had an effect on us not wanting to take as many chances as we had, I don't know.
"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.
"We want to be a team who are hitting quarter-finals, semi-finals and finals. That's what we aimed to do in the long term. We've proved to ourselves and our country that is possible. Now we have a new benchmark, a new level of expectation, a new scenario. But many of these players have come of age on an international stage. I couldn't be prouder with what they've done."
England captain Harry Kane has admitted that the defeat "will hurt for a while" but insisted he was proud, while former international Gary Lineker led the tributes to the team on social media.
Kane, who has scored six goals and is still in pole position to become the first England player since Lineker in 1986 to win the Golden Boot, wrote on Twitter: "It hurts a lot. It will hurt for a while. We can be proud and we'll be back. Thanks for all your support. #ThreeLions."
Lineker scored in England's last World Cup semi-final against Germany 28 years ago and he praised Southgate's side for their performances in Russia.
"Utterly choked, but this young side gave absolutely everything," he wrote. "It's a huge step forward and they'll only get better in the future. They can hold their heads high, they did our country proud."
REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN