Shattered England urged to use pain for future
ENGLAND manager Gareth Southgate has declared the future is bright but urged his players to feel the pain of their World Cup semi-final loss before moving on.
He admitted it would be tough picking up his wounded Three Lions players for Sunday's third-place playoff against Belgium after they gave up the lead to lose 2-1 in extra time to Croatia at Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium on Thursday morning (AEST).
Kieran Tripper's fifth minute free-kick put England ahead before Ivan Perisic and Mario Mandzukic secured a stunning comeback.
Asked to put England's semi-final run into context - their first appearance in the last four since 1990 - Southgate said the loss was too fresh.
"It's something for a couple of days' time. At the moment we all feel the pain of defeat. The dressing room and all of staff, it's a very difficult place,'' Southgate said.
"Did we expect to be in this position? Realistically I don't think any of us did. But you want to take those opportunities in life.
"There will in time be lots of positives to take out (from Russia 2018). But you have to suffer the result sometimes - you can move on too quickly.
"It's too easy to move on immediately from what we've just been through. It's time to be strong as a group and take time to reflect on performances.
"But I'm remarkably proud of this group of players that have advanced - the reaction of supporters compared to two years ago tells them first and foremost that experiences with England can be very positive.
"I couldn't have asked them to give more for me or the country. We've broken through a number of barriers over the last few weeks."
Southgate is expected to make mass changes for England's playoff against Belgium on Sunday morning (AEST) in St Petersburg, with Tripper among the players unlikely to be fit.
With an eye to the future, Southgate could include Eric Dier, Danny Rose, Jamie Vardy and Marcus Rashford.
Captain Harry Kane may play as he attempts to hang on to the golden boot lead, with Southgate backing the striker despite a quiet showing.
"He's captained the team brilliantly through the tournament and I couldn't ask for more of him as captain or as a man the last three weeks," he said.
"It's a game no team wants to play in (the third-place playoff). We've got two days to prepare and want to give a performance of huge pride.
"Every time we wear the shirt we wear it with pride and want to win.
"It's a difficult task to assess everybody and get everyone mentally back. That will be the challenge."