Devastated England dramatically lost the Euro 2020 final on penalties.
The country wept as Gareth Southgate’s men lost in an epic heart-breaking shoot-out with Italy.
The Three Lions penalty hoodoo came back to haunt them yet again.
Three players Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka all missed. 25 years ago Southgate missed the crucial kick in the Euro 96 semi final.
Now he was forced to watch on in agony once more after the game finished 1-1 after extra time.
There were tears on the pitch as the distraught England players collapsed to the turf at the end. They were so close to making history.
But the nation still rose to thank them for their extraordinary efforts over the past month.
As England fan Neal Weekes, echoing the words of Winston Churchill, said: “This isn’t the end. This isn’t even the beginning of the end. It is perhaps the end of the beginning.”
He added: “The 2022 World Cup – we are coming for you.”
Rarely has this famous stadium seemed so alive despite the harrowing loss.
After collecting their medals the players picked out their family and friends in the stands.
They poignantly waved to them before heading down the tunnel.
As fans streamed down Wembley Way to try and find a place to down their sorrows they all praised the “pride and honour” Southgate’s team had brought the nation. Mr Weeks, 56, an auctioneer, from Greenwich, south east London said: “Congratulations to Italy but I’m still very proud.
“Maybe our time will come in 17 months – 3rd time lucky and all that what with a semi final in Russia and today’s defeat in the final.
“Either way it’s my country and we keep going – I’ve been to Kazakhstan, South Africa, Moldova, Brazil, Trinidad & Tobago so now onto Qatar.
“We have a fantastic set of lads as the last couple of years have proved – a group that can definitely bring it home one day….hopefully soon!”
Neal was at the match with son Jonathan, 26, and some pals. And he was lucky enough to have tickets for the Men’s final at Wimbledon in the afternoon.
Mark Baldwin, 61, from Sidcup, a Charlton fan is recovering from a knee replacement and was on crutches inside the ground.
He said: “I wouldn’t have missed this match for the world.
“To have a ticket for the Euros final is priceless.
“It’s disappointing that we lost but Gareth Southgate and the squad have done us proud.”
Leeds United fan Krish Adams, 27, was wearing a blue England shirt with his hero Kalvin Phillips name on the back.
He was at the game with his dad Paul, 54, who was born one month after the 1966 final.
Krish said: “We just fell at the final hurdle but the future is bright – we have such a young squad.
“Let’s hope there isn’t another 55 years of misery.”
Paul added: “If our leaders and politicians could behave with the dignity and class Gareth Southgate does the country would be a much better place.”
Painter and decorator Greg Hughes, 61, from Cheltenham said: “The boys did their best.
“They have made the nation proud again.
“It’s been a brilliant month.”
His son Darren, 33, a former police officer was covered in blood after breaking up a fight between England fans before the match.
He said: “I’m so proud of them – they have been fantastic all tournament.
“We didn’t win the final but we will be back.”
The atmosphere inside the ground was incredible with the 6,000 Italian fans playing their part.
They cheered their side on but were no match for the army of Three Lions supporters.
Every inch of space on Wembley’s stands was covered with St George’s flags from Penrith, Wirksworth, Birmingham, Great Yarmouth and Taunton.
Southgate, captain Harry Kane and the rest of the squad will be now reunited with their families later tomorrow after six weeks in a tight bubble because of Covid-19.
In previous tournaments they had been able to see their wives, girlfriends and children in between matches.
But because of the pandemic this was not possible and the only time they were able to see their loved ones was in the stadiums after games.
They have given some incredible memories.
The wins over Croatia and the Cezch Republic.
Then that awesome 2-0 victory over Germany, the 4-0 win over Ukraine in the “away” game in Rome before the spine-tingling semi-final win over Denmark last Wednesday night.
Hundreds of schools have allowed pupils to start later today and some kind employers are letting staff enjoy a lie-in to sleep off their hangovers.
Before the match the Red Arrows flew overhead leaving a trail of red, white and blue.
There was a carnival atmosphere around Wembley before and after the match but there were some unsavoury scenes with clashes with police.
Bottles and cans were thrown and some fans even managed to clamber on the top of a bus.The players, wearing masks, waved to fans gathered outside the Hertfordshire hotel where they stayed on Saturday night in preparation for the crunch match.
Supporters chanted “It’s Coming Home” as the squad boarded the team bus this afternoon.
Earlier team manager Gareth Southgate thanked fans for their “incredible support” throughout the tournament.
In a video message on the official England football Twitter account, Southgate, who has been praised for his leadership of the team, said the fans’ support has given them a “huge lift”.
Fans were in party mode as they arrived outside the famous London stadium several hours before kick-off on Sunday, proudly sporting the team colours and draped in England flags.
Some boisterous supporters even climbed on top of a bus outside the grounds, while others outside King’s Cross station in the capital let off red and white smoke during the celebratory build-up.
Others ticketless fans were seen trying to storm the entrance to Wembley.
Lovers of both music and football enjoyed a live rendition of the anthemic Three Lions (Football’s Coming Home) at the 229 venue in central London, with World Cup winner Sir Geoff Hurst introducing comedians Frank Skinner and David Baddiel alongside The Lightning Seeds as an ecstatic crowd screamed and jumped along to the tune.
Prince William had recorded a video message to wish the team luck saying: “The whole country is behind you. So, bring it home.”
It was predicted fans bought more than seven million pints on Sunday alone, and in a welcome boost to the economy, it is estimated some £815 million was spent in pubs and hospitality venues during the competition.
Prince George summed up the nation when he exploded with joy with England’s early goal.
He threw his arms in the air and hugged his mum the Duchess of Cambridge after Luke Shaw scored inside three minutes. England were roared on by a passionate crowd who gave a spine-tinglingly rendition of the national anthem before the game.
Most of the crowd was standing throughout with hundreds of extra fans storming the gates to gain access.
But inside the stadium there was a carnival atmosphere and no signs of trouble.
Italy fought back with the hammer blow of a goal from Leonardo Bonucci on 67 minutes.
Wembley fell silent as he knocked the ball over the line following a scramble at a corner.