Gareth Southgate’s pride was as clear as his heartache after England’s remarkable summer came to halt agonisingly short of the World Cup final.
The country came to a standstill during Wednesday evening’s semi-final as the Three Lions lined-up against Croatia looking to keep the dream of bringing football home alive.
Kieran Trippier’s early free-kick put England on course for their first final since 1966, but Southgate’s men will not be able to replicate Sir Alf Ramsey’s heroes after Croatia staged a fightback to instead face France this weekend.
England’s manager was left wondering what could have been – 22 years on from his semi-final heartache at Euro 96.
“I think that’s maybe something for a couple of days’ time because at the moment we all feel the pain of the defeat,” Southgate said when asked how the defeat leaves England.
“Did we expect to be in this position? I don’t think realistically any of us did.
“But when you’ve got to this point and we’ve played in the way we have, and as well as we did in the first half, then you want to take those opportunities in life.
“So, the dressing room and all of the staff is (in) a very difficult place at the moment.
“Having said that, what I will say is that I am remarkably proud of the group of players that have really advanced.
“I think the reaction of the supporters to them at the end compared to two years ago tells them that, first and foremost, experiences with England can be positive, that the country are very proud of what they’ve done and the way that they’ve played.
“And, yeah, there will in time be a lot of positives to take.
“It’s of course very hard to put that into context and a bit too soon, really, because I think you have to suffer the result a little bit.
“It’s too easy sometimes to move on quickly.
“But, certainly, I’m hugely proud of what they’ve done.
“I couldn’t have asked them to give any more for me or for the country.
“They have broken through a number of barriers over the last few weeks.”