England are out, but for once it's not the same old story
Be proud of this team
Here we are again. Heartbreak after penalties. To be honest, at the point a shoot-out looked inevitable, I was never truly confident that England would come out on top. Sat beside my dad, I asked him, 'Who are your five?', and we struggled to put together a combination that inspired confidence. That is not a criticism of the players though, because this England side deserve only praise.
To have the confidence to step up and take a penalty in itself is commendable. At that age as well. What were you doing at the age of 21? None of us can imagine what that pressure is like, so when the tabloids start trying to blame this defeat on Sancho, Rashford and Saka, who were brave enough to take a penalty, do not let their narrative detract from what this team has achieved.
This team, Southgate's team, have inspired us to believe again. And with reason this time. This is not a side comprised of egos divided by club rivalries. This is a family, bonded by a mutual love of playing the game, playing for this manager.
There will be a temptation to focus on the missed penalties. Don't. This loss is not the fault of Rashford, Saka or Sancho. They are England's future, and have done the country proud in more ways than one throughout the past four weeks and the 18 months that preceded it.
Did we score too early again? Should we have continued to apply the same pressure? Maybe, probably. When the dust has settled, we can dissect what England should and shouldn't have done after going 1-0 up in the third minute. But for now, let's just be proud of the team who made us believe that we might actually win something. It's an extremely English attitude to focus on the negatives of losing a final. But we got to a final. That's enough to walk away from this tournament with our heads held high, surely?
It hurts. God, it hurts. But this is pain is different to the pain of two years ago or even five years ago. It's a pain that comes with a sense of pride. England are no longer a laughing stock, but the second best team in Europe. And with a squad this good, this young, this is surely only the beginning.
There is a World Cup in less than 18 months' time, and for everything that is wrong with that, it is another chance for this brilliant group of players to go again.
Gareth Southgate, the whole of England is with you.