The future looks bright - despite the agony of another shootout defeat

Not now. Not this time. Maybe next time?

England were not crowned football’s champions of Europe on Sunday.

Their quest to win a major tournament, a first for 55 years and only a second ever for the representatives of the oldest football association, will have to wait another 17 months, at least until the 2022 World Cup in Qatar next winter that is.

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Italy put paid to that dream on a night of high drama at an emotionally-charged Wembley Stadium on Sunday night.

England expects: Aston Villa's Jack Grealish has plenty more international football to come. Picture: Nick Potts/PA Wire.

But England players and their manager Gareth Southgate have won our hearts and our minds, transporting us from the worries of the pandemic with their rousing performances, their stoicism and their honesty.

And what a journey it has been these last few weeks.

What a ride they have given a nation in desperate need of a pick-me-up.

From the optimism of beating World Cup finalists Croatia in the opening game to that cathartic victory over the old nemesis Germany in the Round of 16.

More to come: England's Kalvin Phillips, left, Luke Shaw, right, and Bukayo Saka can be mainstays of the squad for years to come. (Carl Recine/Pool Photo via AP)

From the winning of the group to the thumping of Ukraine in the quarter-finals in Rome to the adversity-overcoming prevailing over Denmark in Wednesday’s semi-final (and it was a penalty I don’t care what anybody says, Sterling was fouled twice!!!), with the only momentary stutter that draw with Scotland.

That it comes to an end 90 minutes short is typical England, but this is not the end, this is just the next step.

If the beginning of Southgate’s quiet revolution was a semi-final berth in the 2018 World Cup in Russia, then Euro 2020 is the next learning curve on this journey.

Semi-finalists one tournament, finalists the next.

It does not take a mathematician to work out the next step.

Nor does it need one, for Southgate’s England are still young.

They are still learning.

They have not yet reached their peak.

Leeds United midfielder Kalvin Phillips is the embodiment of that theory.

The role he has played over the last month for England, and the last two years for Leeds, suggests an international class player not necessarily in the making, but in the here and now.

For Phillips read any of his fellow young team-mates; Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish, West Ham’s Declan Rice, Chelsea’s Mason Mount, Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka, Borussia Dortmund’s Jude Bellingham and soon-to-be Manchester United’s Jadon Sancho and his future team-mate Luke Shaw.

There is much to admire about this likeable crop of young role models; much to be excited about in this exhilerating group of footballers.

So while the hurt you feel this morning is raw, think instead of the pride they have given you, the entertainment these last few weeks, the hope, the lifting of spirits, the sense of pride you feel in wearing the badge of the Three Lions on your chest again.

England’s historic, groundreaking journey has ended in heartbreak, but hope prevails.

Not now. Not this time. Maybe next time.