The pain of another penalty shootout defeat was overwhelming as England lost to Italy in the Euro 2020 final – but in the midst of disappointment, there was a feeling of hope and an inkling that this was just the start of a new chapter.
It was the same as has so often been the case – England get close but ultimately lose on penalties.
But under Gareth Southgate, this young side have provided the nation with hope and a togetherness which has not always been there.
“They have brought us a joy that definitely my generation and below have never felt watching an England team,” said former captain Rio Ferdinand.
Eight years ago, then-chairman of the Football Association Greg Dyke told BBC Sport England’s targets were to reach the semi-finals of Euro 2020 and to win the World Cup two years later.
England are well on track, so can we be optimistic for the future?
‘They have made us feel proud’
At 19 years and 309 days, England’s Bukayo Saka became the fourth-youngest European Championship finalist. Mason Mount and Declan Rice, both aged 22, started the game, while 21-year-old Jadon Sancho came on as a substitute.
Jude Bellingham, 18, Reece James, 21 and Phil Foden, 21 all featured in the tournament too, showing the depth of young talent in this England squad.
“They have given us hope and something to smile about,” former England captain Alan Shearer told BBC One. “It’s just devastating after everything they have given us.
“It will be tough for them now. Hopefully, they will get over it.
“It will hurt like hell for the rest of their careers but they have made us feel so proud over this last month.”
Ex-England midfielder and recent Chelsea manager Frank Lampard added: “There will be lessons to learn. You realise at this level what it does to you. We were asking a lot of these players.
“There were some outstanding performances. But Italy, with their experienced players, were confident on the ball even when they were losing the game. Those are the lessons you learn.
“We’ve seen individuals and the team grow. We’ve seen the nation grow behind them.”
Ferdinand added: “They lifted the country up when we needed it.”
‘Beaten by the best team – it just wasn’t meant to be’
Amid the pain of defeat, England can take heart from the Italians’ response to a setback, winning these Euros after the low of failing even to reach the 2018 World Cup.
That was described as the “apocalypse” in the Italian media. On the cover of Gazzetta dello Sport, the headline simply read: “The end.”
Three years later, Roberto Mancini has turned them into the best team in Europe.
“We were beaten by the best team in the tournament and the best team in the 120 minutes,” said Ferdinand.
Former England defender Micah Richards said: “I’m proud of the England team, but I’m also proud of the Italian team. Mancini will finally get the credit he deserves because his team have been outstanding throughout the entire tournament.”
Ex-England midfielder Jermaine Jenas was impressed by how Mancini’s side responded to going behind, saying: “It takes a lot to steady the ship when they came into this cauldron of fire and passion and given the support for this England side.
“I think it was that experience they had at the back that slowly started to shift the tie into their favour.”
And former striker Chris Sutton added on BBC Radio 5 Live: “The better team won on the night. Italy just had the edge.”
‘Fuel to achieve something special’
While experience proved critical for Italy, age is on England’s side as they boasted one of the youngest squads at these Euros.
And this tournament has shown that in Gareth Southgate they have a tournament-savvy manager. His early team selections were questioned and he was perceived as being too negative when he named five defenders against Germany.
He also fought criticism at a perceived hesitancy to play creative midfielder Jack Grealish.
But in getting to the final, his decisions were vindicated.
“With a World Cup right around the corner, I can only feel that with this experience, this hurt and this pain that they are sharing with the country, England will be able to use this tournament as fuel to achieve something special – as they have done here already,” said Jenas.