Belfast Telegraph

We have restored pride in a nation, says Kane

By Adrian Rutherford

Harry Kane insists England's World Cup exit marks the beginning of an exciting future, and not the end for the team.

The striker admitted the squad is hurting badly from the semi-final defeat to Croatia, but believes it is the start of something special.

Juventus striker Mario Mandzukic scored in extra-time in Moscow on Wednesday night to make the score 2-1 and shatter their dreams.

But Kane says that when the disappointment eases, England can look back on their journey in Russia with pride.

"Of course we're gutted. It's hard to put it into words now," the 24-year-old said. "All we can say is we're proud of each other - we gave it everything.

"I know we're going to look back and think we could have done this and that, but it was small margins in a big game and it just didn't go our way."

England arrived in Russia with one of the tournament's youngest and most inexperienced sides, and on the back of humiliating exits at the 2014 World Cup and Euro 2016.

But they defied expectations to reach the last-four, with players such as Kane, Harry Maguire and Kieran Trippier coming of age.

And Kane, the tournament's top scorer with six goals, believes it is merely the start of an exciting journey for a young England side.

"When you look at our team and how young it is, the gaffer has only been in charge for a couple of years," he said.

"It's massive - it's massive that we had a good tournament, restored the pride in the nation and the fans were excited to watch us play.

"That's how we've got to keep it - we've got to keep progressing, I know we'll get better and we just have to learn from nights like this."

England, playing in their first World Cup semi-final since 1990, took a fifth-minute lead via Trippier's free-kick.

But Croatia came back strongly in the second half, levelling through Ivan Perisic.

His stabbed finish took the tie into extra-time, with Mandzukic scoring the winner in the 109th minute.

Kane added: "We had a good spell, we went 1-0 up and had a couple of chances where we could have got the second.

"In the second half Croatia came out, put the pressure on and we were under the cosh for a little while. We handled it well, but unfortunately we conceded at the wrong time.

"It was small margins - in extra-time we had a corner cleared off the line. These are the things you need to go your way in a big game, and unfortunately they didn't go our way."

Afterwards, England boss Gareth Southgate - part of the side that lost the Euro '96 semi-final to Germany - comforted the players.

Kane said Southgate had urged them to hold their heads high.

He added: "The gaffer spoke and said we should all be proud of ourselves - of course nothing he's going to say is going to make us feel any better.

"He told us to be proud, to hold our heads up high, because we've come a long way - especially from two years ago.

"Even to hear the fans singing out there, after the defeat, is a proud feeling, and all we can do is try and build on it.

"We've built a good foundation over the last couple of years with the manager and support and that, and we'll carry that on.

"We've shown that we can do well in these tournaments, and the aim now is not to wait another 20-odd years to get into another big semi-final."

Croatia now play France in Sunday's final back at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.

It is the Croatians' first appearance in a major final, while France have a chance to lift their second World Cup almost 20 years to the day since their 1998 triumph.

Asked if he would watch the game, Kane said: "I'm not sure, to be honest. Obviously we play Saturday (against Belgium in the third place play-off) and then we'll be getting ready to go home on the Sunday.

"I'm sure we'll keep an eye out for the score - I'm not going to be too fussed on watching it, personally."

The third place play-off clash with the Belgians takes place in St Petersburg tomorrow.

Kane added: "It's not the game we want to be in as a team. It is what it is, we will try and play the game with as much pride and try and finish on a high.

"But we're still going to be hurting - in three or four days' time we're still going to be thinking about this one and what could have been."

Belfast Telegraph

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