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Gracious in defeat: Gareth Southgate congratulates Croatia's Luka Modricq
Gracious in defeat: Gareth Southgate congratulates Croatia's Luka Modricq

Gareth Southgate says his England side could not have given any more after their World Cup semi-final defeat to Croatia in Moscow.

Southgate's young side made if further than most people expected as the draw opened up for them but, despite finally breaking the country's penalty curse, they could not makie it all the way to the final.

Southgate says that after exceeding expectations in Russia, his young squad had now set a new benchmark to meet in future tournaments.

"We've come an incredibly long way in a short space of time," Southgate said. "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.

Despite not expecting to be in the semi-finals, after dominating the first half England's players found defeat a bitter pill to swallow with the final in their grasp.

"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.

"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."

Southgate looking for positives

"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."

England secured their biggest major tournament win in Russia, as well as winning their first World Cup penalty shootout and first knockout match since 2006 en route to just their third ever semi-final in this competition.

But the defeat to the smallest nation to reach a World Cup final since Uruguay in 1950 is a body blow that leaves the Three Lions reeling ahead of an unwanted third-placed play-off against Belgium on Saturday.

"It's impossible to say anything to them to make them feel better at this moment of time," Southgate said.

"I don't think when people look at the experience and last 18 months, that people expected us to be in a semi-final of the World Cup.

"But, once we were here we really believed we could win the game.

"For us, it was an opportunity to do something which only one team in our nation's history has ever done.

"We're still one of only three teams ever to get to a semi-final, and I think for all of the players and staff they have got to be proud of that.

"I don't think any of them could have given any more."

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