‘We were confident, it’s really hard to take’: England players devastated after World Cup hopes end, says Declan Rice


Declan Rice says he is “distraught” as England really believed this would be their year and that the “better team lost”, while expressing a squad wish that Gareth Southgate stay as manager as has created something “special” that the players “love” being involved with.

The midfielder felt Southgate got it “spot on” in terms of game plan in the 2-1 quarter-final loss to France, especially as Kylian Mbappe was so “quiet” and both goals came against the run of play. Rice similarly said England were “not happy” with some of the decisions but didn’t want to say any more about the referee.

“I think you can see on my face right now I’m distraught because we really believed this year that it could be a year,” he said.

“We obviously got to a Euros final, we’ve really progressed well as a team over the last few years and we really felt as a team – we weren’t overconfident – but we were confident enough to know that we could go out there and beat France and that’s the mentality switch that England have not had over the years.

“I really hope [Southgate] stays because the core group that we’ve got and what he’s made for us, it’s so special to be a part of, I love playing under him and I love playing for England. He got everything spot on again. It’s not on him. It’s not on him at all – the tactics were right, we played the right way.

“We were aggressive, we stopped Mbappe, he was quiet. Ultimately, like I said, it was two goals against the run of play and that’s not down to the manager, it’s down to us on the pitch.

“We’ve dominated the game, other than their two goals. I don’t really remember them creating much, we played some great football but it is a game of small margins. We win together, we lose together. It’s just obviously really hard to process at the moment. We’ve come so far, I think that’s credit to the manager, the spirit that he’s brought to this team and togetherness that we’ve got.

“Like I said, we weren’t overly confident but we were confident enough that we really could win this tournament and that is not the mentality England have had over the years. You could see that in our performance, we were really aggressive, created loads of chances – scored one great penalty, missed another but that’s football. It’s obviously really hard to take at the minute. To lose a quarter-final against France is really tough.”

While there were questions about referee Wilton Sampaio, Rice didn’t go too far into that.

“It’s hard, you can’t really speak about the referee. We’re individuals, we’re the ones that play the game. He’s the one that officiates it. Obviously, we’re not happy with some of the decisions but at the end of the day, we’re the ones that lost the game. So we will take responsibility for that. I think the only clear one was how the penalty that didn’t get given and a few free-kicks that didn’t go our way in crucial areas, but we take that on the chin.”

Rice feels the campaign bodes well for the future, especially with so many young players, which is another reason Southgate should stay.

“If you look at the squad we are so young, but we’ve got so many top players. We’ve got to a semi-final, Euros final, obviously crashed out here at a quarter-final but in my opinion the better team lost and that shows how far we have come.

From left, England’s Mason Mount, Jude Bellingham and Declan Rice react after World Cup defeat


“I think sometimes the negativity surrounding us will go away once we have won something again, I think there will always be that pressure on us but I feel like it’s starting to sway that way that we’re getting back to a level where people are believing in us and the country is backing us.

“A few years ago it wasn’t like that, so we can be really proud of ourselves as a group. But we need to go again because ultimately international football is based on what you win – we haven’t won for years so that is what we want to try and do. I think there’s so many players here that are 19, 20, 21 who are stepping up on the biggest stage.

“We’re England, the mentality has changed now like I said, and we’ll be back for sure.”

Rice revealed what Southgate said in the dressing room afterwards, but that none of it was about his future.

“He said he’s so proud of us and so did Steve [Holland], so proud of us as a group because of how we’ve been, how we’ve applied ourselves to the last month, what we’ve given in training sessions. Some of the lads that haven’t even had a minute, every day around the group.

“Everything, backroom staff, everyone, if you guys could come in and see how well everyone’s been on it, you would have thought we would have gone the whole way as a collective but for me, personally, I hope he stays.

“Obviously, I don’t know. There’s a lot of talk around that. I think he’s been brilliant for us. I think there’s a lot of criticism that’s not deserved. I think he’s taken us so, so far. Further than what people can expect.

“I really hope he stays because the core group that we’ve got and what he’s made for us, it’s so special to be a part of. I love playing under him and I love playing for England.”

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