Hurting England players helped console their heartbroken supporters in the stands as their World Cup dream came to a cruel end.
Gareth Southgate’s young side had to hold back the tears at full-time – but there was no stopping them comforting their incredible fans as Croatia took their place in Sunday’s final.
READ MORE: England’s World Cup dream ended by Croatia
The feeling, despite the obvious crushing blow, was that this was just the start. England midfielder Dele Alli came to chat to fans who had stayed behind and Raheem Sterling posed for selfies.
Those supporters who have witnessed the nation’s progression first hand now seem to accept youth is the way.
They still serenaded their manager long after his and the squad eventually returned to the dressing room.
— Jacqui Oatley (@JacquiOatley) July 11, 2018
Southgate knew they were in it together and said the support in Russia had powered England into their best position since 1990.
Harry Maguire, whose family have been right behind him in his first international tournament, went to find them as soon as they game was over.
His brother Laurence had been granted leave by National League Chesterfield to fly out and follow the Leicester City centre-back.
Maguire has become a cult hero for his no-nonsence performances and against didn’t let anyone down.
England players on the floor.
England fans applauding their team.
This was the finest of efforts, the hardest of tries. Further than many supporters dared to dream.
They’ve fallen one game short but leave Russia with heads held high. pic.twitter.com/49RIZ0kSGT
— Richard Conway (@richard_conway) July 11, 2018
Southgate reserved special praise for the way the country has united this summer, the closest England have been to international honours since their infamous semi-final defeat to Germany at Wembley 22 years ago.
“The fans were fantastic and have been a driving force for us – both here in Russia and back at home,” he said.
“The players have been well aware of the excitement back in England and it has helped so much knowing everyone is right behind the team.”
He added: “First half we were really good and I think we may could have done with another. There were periods throughout the game where we had chances.
“There was a spell in the second half where they got the goal and their tails were up and we really had to weather the storm and lost our way a little bit.
“Possibly at that moment, the experience of being a head in a big game like this, we were hanging on a little bit, rather than trying to control the game.”