DOHA: England crashed out of the World Cup against an all too familiar backdrop of heroic failure and agonising over yet another crucial missed penalty in a major championship.
But as the Three Lions packed their bags on Sunday there was much about the circumstances of their exit that felt like a break from the past.
No anguished wailing about tactical failings or technical ineptitude. No demands for a root-and-branch review of English football, and no calls for a change of manager.
Instead, a growing consensus that Gareth Southgate should — if he wants to — be allowed to continue for at least one more tournament.
The 52-year-old manager was roundly lambasted after his team’s two previous tournaments, blamed for an inability to tweak his gameplan mid-course during the 2018 World Cup semi-final loss to Croatia and last year’s European Championship final defeat to Italy at Wembley.
Yet as the desert dust settled on Saturday’s 2-1 loss to France, few were accusing Southgate of tactical incompetence.
Southgate’s decision to go on the front foot against the world champions, opting for a 4-3-3 formation, came within a whisker of paying off.
“We wanted to go toe to toe, we felt that was the way we wanted to approach the tournament,” Southgate said afterwards. “We’ve done that.”
“We’ve had consistent performances across three tournaments but tonight is probably the best we’ve played against a major nation across the period that I’ve been in charge.
“But we have fallen short and the scoreline is all that matters and that’s hard to take.”
Southgate’s current contract runs through to the end of 2024, meaning he will have the chance to lead England at the next European Championship.
The England manager, however, said that he plans to take time to reflect on his future before deciding whether to stay or go.