England coach Gareth Southgate said 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.
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 Croatians after extra time at the Luzhniki Stadium.
Given they arrived in Russia as rank outsiders, however, Southgate was invited to detail the positives from a campaign that appears to have repaired the strained relationship between England and its 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 1990 so Southgate said he was trying to balance his pride in his young team with remembering how rare such chances are.
“Tonight was a wonderful opportunity for us and you can’t guarantee that those opportunities will come again,” he added.
“But equally we want to be a team that’s hitting quarter-finals, semi-finals, finals – that was what we’ve aimed to do in the long term and we’ve proved that is possible.
“We’ve proved to ourselves that is possible and we’ve proved to our country that is possible. Now we have a new benchmark, a new level of expectation. Many of these players have come of age and I couldn’t be prouder of them.”
Southgate said playing regularly in big matches was a key stage of development for his players 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 with the chance to get to a World Cup final,” he added.
“Whether that had an effect on us not wanting to take as many chances as we had, subconsciously, I don’t know.
“When you get to this stage of the competition, the margins are fine … they’ve taken two of their (chances) and we weren’t able to respond.”