England coach Gareth Southgate has claimed his players “came of age” during this summer’s World Cup after they were knocked out by Croatia in the semi-finals.
Southgate’s men got off to the dream start as right-back Kieran Trippier curled home a free kick after just five minutes. However, Croatia found an equaliser through Ivan Perisic in the 68th minute.
They then grabbed the winner through Juventus star Mario Manduzkic in extra-time and England failed to respond to send the game to penalties.
England were expected to struggle in Russia after their disappointing displays at the 2014 World Cup and Euro 2016 and Southgate insists there is a big future on the horizon for his players.
He told reporters after the defeat: “There’ll be a new benchmark and level of expectation.
“To become a winning team there are hurdles you have to overcame – and we’ve surpassed many of them. Many of our players have come of age on the international stage.
“Tonight was a wonderful opportunity and you can’t guarantee they’ll come again. But equally we want to be a team who hit quarter-finals, semi-finals and finals. We’ve proved to ourselves and our country that’s possible.
“A lot of teams who go on to win trophies lose in quarter-finals or semi-finals first. At the moment we all feel the pain of defeat. I don’t think realistically we expected to be here.
“I’m remarkably proud of the group of players – the reaction of the supporters compared to two years ago shows the country are proud of the way we played.”