By Michael Burgess in Moscow
England midfielder Jordan Henderson spoke slowly, deliberately, into the assortment of microphones, emphasising the positive, even if his expression betrayed another feeling. Defender Kyle Walker was also bullish, talking about the presence of a "good foundation".
Raheem Sterling didn't say anything, scuttling past the throng of media, with his head down. Fellow youngsters Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford also scuttled through the mixed zone, refusing to answer any questions, then Dele Alli followed close behind them.
Goalkeeper Jordan Pickford said the team showed character - "we never give up". A FA press officer stood nearby, holding Eric Dier's post-match pizza, and remarked ruefully to some of the Fleet Street media "well, no more darts, then boys", referring to the organised bi-weekly challenges between some journalists and the players.
In the bowels of Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow, the clock had just ticked past 1:30am. This was the aftermath, the scene of yet another modern day English footballing tragedy, a long list now stretching back to 1970.
Sure, this team has captured the imagination like no other since 1990, and brought back England's love for their nationall team. They'll emerge with credit, but also have to live with too many what-ifs, with rocks under the beach towels all summer.
England led, yet became only the second team in 18 World Cup semi finals to lose from that position. England were 22 minutes from a place in the World Cup final, but instead will be playing for third place in St Petersburg on Sunday morning (NZT).
When it really, really counted, they weren't quite there. Not clinical enough to take their chances in the first half (even the Croatian coach has since admitted it would have been game over at 2-0) and not alert and desperate enough to stop Croatia's opportunities in the second spell.
Even the gamesmanship was missing. Can you imagine if Ivan Perisic's high footed volley had been scored against Italy, Spain, Brazil, Argentina et al? The defender concerned (Kyle Walker) would have gone down holding his head, the goal would have been reviewed through VAR and possibly not given. What might have been.
It's hard to imagine when England might get this chance again. Sure, all but one or two of the current siquad will be around in Qatar in 2022, but so will most of Brazil's team, and France's. It./aly and Holland will surely be back, Germany will be re-energised, as will Spain. Argentina? Who knows, but probably. It might not be for a while.
This was the moment, as all the cards had fallen for England. Facing Colombia in the second round without James Rodriguez, then getting Sweden in the last eight. When will that happen again? Look at England's previous quarter final opponents down the years; Diego Maradona's Argentina (1986), a red-hot Cameroon team inspired by Roger Milla (1990), Brazil, with Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho (2002) and Portugal (2006).
Though England had surprised with their run in Russia, they had to grab their chance at history, but not enough of them did. Lingard and Dele Alli struggled to impose themselves in midfield as the game went on, and both Walker and John Stones were guilty of hesitancy at vital moments. And Rashford was poor when he came on, choosing to dribble down blind alleys and almost invariably losing the ball.
There is no doubt that Croatia were the better side across the 120 minutes and deserved their victory, but it's also clear that England failed to seize the moment, in a manner that will haunt the team for some time to come.
The final word was left to one of the Croatian players, who tapped teammate Dejan Lovren on the shoulder as the defender was holding court with a posse of international media. "So...it's not coming home then?", smiled the player, before they both started laughing.k