Gary Neville and Ian Wright were quick to rally round Harry Kane after England’s agonising World Cup exit.
Kane missed a penalty as England’s bid to be crowned world champions for the first time since 1966 ended in a heartbreaking 2-1 loss to France in the quarter-finals on Saturday.
Captain Kane had cancelled out Aurelien Tchouameni’s opener for France with one spot-kick but fired over from a later opportunity as an Olivier Giroud header proved decisive.
Neville, working as a pundit for ITV, said: “I’m absolutely gutted for Harry Kane and gutted for the lads. They played really well in the second half. It was a 50-50 game and we’ve just come out the wrong side.
“You wouldn’t want anyone else to take that penalty. It would have made him England’s greatest-ever goalscorer. The heartbreak. They’ve worked so hard through all the qualifying games and have now got to wait four years to do it again.”
Wright also gave Kane his backing.
The former England striker said: “You are disappointed for Harry missing the pen. He’s the man, he’s done brilliantly but he’s tried to make sure of getting it in and it’s not quite worked out. It’s so disappointing for him.”
Former Republic of Ireland midfielder Roy Keane backed Kane to bounce back from his heartbreak.
Keane said: “For all the disappointments, you’d still ask him to take the next one. He’s a brilliant player, a brilliant professional. But it’s a huge setback for him, you’d think he’d hit the target but he fluffed his lines.”
France go through to face surprise package Morocco for a place in the final against Croatia or Argentina.
Neville feels England can leave with their heads held high but will reflect on what might have been.
“We’re not going to be hard on them,” he said. “They’ve played well and represented us unbelievably for four years but I think the lads in the changing room will think that was a missed opportunity.
“They had the game by the scruff of the neck in the second half, they’ve got Morocco in the semi and they’re in good form.
“This is not a disgrace. England have lost pretty badly in some tournaments but they’ve played well against a good side. I thought they edged it in the end, but obviously not the scoreline.”
Neville thought England were on the wrong end of some poor decisions from Brazilian referee Wilton Sampaio.
The most notable were a possible foul on Bukayo Saka in the build-up to France’s first goal and England also had another strong appeal for a penalty dismissed in the first half.
Neville said: “The referee had an absolute nightmare. He was a joke of a referee. I’m not saying that is all down to England’s defeat and people might say that is excuses, but he was just a bad referee. Rank bad.”
England manager Gareth Southgate, who is contracted to 2024, was non-committal on his future after the game but Neville hopes he continues.
He said: “I would love Gareth to stay on for another two years and I would love him to stay on beyond that, whether it’s as the coach or in another role the FA design.
“In the last 10 years we’ve won youth tournaments, we’ve won a women’s tournament, we’ve got to a men’s final, we’re playing really well and have got good technical players.
“England is in a pretty good place. We have gone out of tournaments in the past 25 years in disgrace but we’ve got a great future and he is a big part of that.”
Keane felt defeat was harsh on England.
He said: “It’s brutal. I thought England were outstanding. They covered well and were the better team but you have to give France credit for finding a way to win when they weren’t at their best. That’s what it’s about but it’s really tough on England.”
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