England fans have rued the “missed opportunity” for World Cup glory as Gareth Southgate’s squad made their return home from Qatar.
Midfielder Jude Bellingham was seen signing autographs for supporters gathered outside England’s Souq Al Wakra base before he got the main players’ coach heading to Doha Airport to catch a Birmingham-bound flight.
Jack Grealish, Harry Maguire, Phil Foden and Trent Alexander-Arnold were among the first seen departing their Qatar base while supporters in the country also booked flights to return home.
Broadcaster ITV said England’s 2-1 defeat to reigning champions France at the quarter-final stage was the most watched programme across all TV channels this year, with an average audience of 20.4 million viewers.
Mark Trigg, 48, from Derby, said the mood in Qatar was a “bit subdued” on what has been the “trip of a lifetime” as he experienced his first World Cup.
The chef, who flies back home on Monday morning, told the PA news agency: “It’s disappointing, I can’t help but feel it’s a missed opportunity.”
Referencing Three Lions, the 1996 football anthem by David Baddiel, Frank Skinner and rock band The Lightning Seeds, Mr Trigg said: “I thought we were better than France in areas of the game, but, like the song says, ‘we’ve seen it all before’.
“But we’re up and about and talking about Euro 2024 already, and the next match, so it’s a disappointment but it goes on, it doesn’t end there, it’s on to the next one.”
Harry Kane scored one penalty and missed another as England crashed to a heartbreaking defeat, with manager Southgate deliberating over his future.
Mr Trigg said of Southgate’s future: “He’s probably going to take stock and make his decision, but even if he goes who do you bring in?
“I’m not really sure, so I’d probably give him another shot. The team are all behind him and I think you’d struggle to galvanise that again within 18 months before the next tournament.”
Karen Barham, 60, was flying back home on Sunday after following the Three Lions at the tournament since the opening 6-2 win against Iran.
The solicitor, from Guildford, told PA: “I can’t fault the effort, they gave it everything, but you can’t expect to win the World Cup on penalties and no goals from open play – we needed more speed and incision in the final third.
“France had that final clinical finish that we didn’t. Heartbreaking.”
On whether Southgate should continue in his role, Ms Barham replied: “I think so, yes. He’s still under contract and should stay at least until Euro 2024.
“I’m sure (Newcastle United manager) Eddie Howe will succeed him at some future point.”
There was better news for one member of England’s camp – Dave the cat.
Dave was adopted by the players as their mascot after he spent time around them at their hotel.
Defender Kyle Walker had promised to bring Dave home if they won the tournament, but despite the quarter-final defeat the players will still rehome him.
Dave is expected to spend four months in quarantine before heading to his new home, with the team yet to decide who will keep him.
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