(Reuters) - Gareth Southgate’s England team were hailed as heroes by British media, who acclaimed their achievement rather than dwelled on disappointment after their heart-breaking World Cup exit on Wednesday.
England’s hopes of reaching only their second ever World Cup final were dashed by Croatia, as Mario Mandzukic scored the deciding goal in a 2-1 extra-time win for Zlatko Dalic’s side on Wednesday.
Despite failing to make the most of arguably their best chance of reaching the final since 1966, British media hailed the team as heroes with Mirror Sport declaring them “National Treasures”, while the Daily Mail saluted their efforts.
The Telegraph’s front page called for England to “Hold your heads high” while the Guardian captured supporters’ mood with the headline “The hurt goes on”.
The widespread optimism is a far cry from the reaction England received following their Euro 2016 exit, when the team and then manager Roy Hodgson were criticized heavily for their underwhelming performance in the competition.
England’s valiant effort also drew praise from Britain’s Prince William, who said the team’s performance gave fans “something to believe in”.
The team were backed by various pundits, celebrities and former players, including Gary Neville, Jamie Carragher and Jermain Defoe.
“This team have taken us to a place we never thought we’d ever imagine we’d get. England had never overachieved, but this team have in reaching the semi-final...,” Neville, a pundit on ITV, said.
“Three weeks ago, there wasn’t even a connection with the England football team. People looked upon it with some sort of despair. Now, everyone has loved the last three weeks and everyone can be proud of that.”
Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho also praised the England team.
“It’s a young team, the majority of the players will play in the next World Cup with more experience at club level,” the Portuguese boss told RT.
“If I was in charge of the FA there would be no doubt that I would keep Gareth Southgate and Steve Holland and give them the chance to take the team to the next Euros and the next World Cup.”
England forward Marcus Rashford offered heartfelt praise to manager Southgate.
“You’ve brought belief and the love of football back. Thank you boss from the whole nation,” the 20-year-old said on Twitter with a picture of himself embracing the England manager.
Reporting by Aditi Prakash in Bengaluru; Editing by Toby Davis