When the heartbroken Harry Kane needed his cast mates most, they were there. Goalkeeper Jordan Pickford rushed over and resolutely stopped a cameraman from filming the tragic figure.
Head coach Gareth Southgate gave his captain a warm hug in the huge desert tent arena at Al Khour and gave him warm words to take with him. After the spectacular 2-1 draw against world champions France, hardly anyone could empathize with Kane's boundless disappointment as well as Southgate, whose missed EM penalty kick from 1996 reverberates to this day.
Kane: "This game will hurt us for a long time"
England's wait for a major title continues 56 years after Wembley's World Cup triumph, as does the penal misery: Kane's missed shot in the spectator stands at Al-Bait Stadium will remain as a picture and memory of this World Cup - and not the memorable quarter-final fight against the giants France or the sovereign tournament performance up to then.
"This game will hurt us for a long time. The World Cup is only every four years. We have no chance of making up for it next year. We have a long wait ahead of us," said the 29-year-old, who posed in the interview zone and spoke calmly. Only a year ago, the Three Lions lost the European Championship final in a dramatic way from the point against Italy. They also went out on penalties in 2004 (vs Portugal), 2006 (vs Portugal) and 2012 (vs Italy). This time, Kane's faux pas will be remembered.
His team, including coach Southgate, gathered around the captain. No one blamed Kane, who previously equaled Wayne Rooney's national record with a first penalty. "How many penalties did he take for us? He's a world-class striker. I can't imagine our game without him," said veteran Jordan Henderson. Southgate made it clear: "We win as a team and we lose as a team. He's the best shooter." If he had to decide again tomorrow, he would immediately let Kane shoot again.
Coach Southgate leaves the future open
Southgate's only decision that is due in the near future is not a direct sporting one, but rather a perspective one: fulfill the contract until 2024 and dare a new attempt with the promising team around Kane and Jude Bellingham in Germany? Or leave early? When he spoke to the world press well after midnight, after a grueling week at the World Cup, he not only seemed drawn, but also indecisive. "I need time to make the right decisions. It's very emotional. You have so many different feelings at a World Cup like this. It takes so much energy, a lot of energy."
While there was speculation before the tournament about possible successors such as Thomas Tuchel or José Mourinho, Southgate's position has been clearly strengthened with this World Cup - even without the golden trophy. "I want to make the right decision, whatever it is. The right decision for the team and for the association," said Gentleman Southgate, who, unlike experts at home, did not want to say a word about referee Wilton Sampaio from Brazil. The ex-professional did not sound like a man who fears his replacement.
Southgate would have the best conditions for the EM 2024 in Germany. The team has matured over several major tournaments, the young generation around BVB star Bellingham, Phil Foden and Bukayo Saka is getting stronger every year. That was also the career of the last world champions Germany (2014) and France (2018) before the big triumph.
No personnel changes
"This amazing young England team gave their all and they're only going to get better. Their time will come," predicted Gary Lineker. Other former professionals such as Alan Shearer and Gary Neville agreed even at the moment of greatest disappointment: Please keep it up - and please with Southgate, who took over the Three Lions after the EM 2016 at the low point after a bankruptcy against Iceland. A change in personnel is not planned at first. Only Kyle Walker (32) and Jordan Henderson (32) were over 30 from the France starting XI, otherwise the Kane generation and the Bellingham generation will shape the near future.
But that was far away in the desert after goals were conceded by Aurélien Tchouaméni and Olivier Giroud. "Absolutely devastated. It was a small detail that I take responsibility for. There is no hiding and it will take time to process. But that's part of the sport," Kane wrote on Twitter Sunday morning. Southgate, on the other hand, did not say a critical word about his leader. "For me he is a fantastic leader, he played his best game at this World Cup," said the coach. Only England's happy ending remained - as always for 56 years.