England manager Gareth Southgate has given a touching message to the Russian people, thanking them for their "warmth" and "sincerity" after his side bowed out of the 2018 World Cup with a loss to Belgium in the 3rd place playoff.
England were defeated 2-0 at St. Petersburg Stadium with goals from Thomas Meunier and Eden Hazard in the first 10 and last 10 minutes of the match respectively. It denied the Three Lions a best finish at a World Cup since they won the tournament in 1966.
Nevertheless, Southgate expressed pride in a side that surprised everybody by reaching the tournament semi-finals, where they suffered defeat to a technically and physically sound Croatia.
"I am unbelievably proud of the way we played," the 47-year-old said after the match. "We were tired after the semi-final. I was forced to make some changes to the starting lineup, but in the second half we had a chance to equalize."
"We finished fourth, gained some experience, everyone from the players to the coaching staff, and I couldn’t ask more over these 31 days we spent in Russia."
Turning his attention to the way he and his players had been received in Russia, Southgate thanked the Russian people in every city he had visited for their show of "sincerity" and "warmth."
"I want to thank, as a representative of the team, and from myself personally, everyone in this room, you have received us excellently. All the volunteers, the people have treated us with warmth and this was in every city," the England manager said.
"There was a lot said about the relationship between our countries, but when we spoke, we saw the sincerity in that relationship on all levels. Thank you to the journalists, who have asked the correct questions and we hope that you enjoyed it."
It will be heartbreak for England, as the nation had begun to believe in a repeat of the heady nights of 1966 when they won their first and to date only World Cup in their home tournament. A return to popularity for the favorite "Football's Coming Home" song was a marker of the belief that had been restored.
Although they leave the tournament empty-handed, Southgate's rejuvenated England side seemed to return hope to a nation that glory could, if not be obtained, at least be dreamt about for an extended period.