Kane proves himself on big stage as Three Lions take home feel-good factor
England were all played out. The whistle had long gone on their World Cup campaign, the team bus was almost full and a low-key party was awaiting back at their hotel 20 miles north of St Petersburg in Repino.
Get Down on It by Kool & The Gang was being played over the bus sound system and they were just waiting for one man: Harry Kane.
The striker had been selected for post-match doping tests and was the last to emerge. It felt appropriate that it was the captain, and the Golden Boot winner, who therefore had the last word on England's involvement at this World Cup, contrasting it with the desperate mood after the last-16 exit against Iceland at Euro 2016.
"The most important thing is getting the fans back on our side," Kane said, as he contemplated qualifying for the next tournament, Euro 2020.
"Going into a competition where we could be playing a lot of games at Wembley, our home, if we qualify, it's exciting. That's the contrast for me from two years ago, from Iceland, to when we lost in the semi-final.
"The fans staying behind afterwards and cheering. That's massive. We've connected with our fans and the people back home."
As England return home from Russia, Gareth Southgate has rediscovered something that was lost: a sense of identity.
There is now a feeling that playing for England could actually be enjoyable, that tournaments are there to be "attacked" and that there was nothing to fear. After all, as Southgate often said, what is the worst that can happen?
The worst would have been repeating the failings or disappointments of the past. So, England have been there already. Southgate has been there already.
And Kane has been there already, not least two years ago when he failed to score at Euro 2016. Now Kane has six goals and the only Englishman who can match that total, and the prize of the Golden Boot as the World Cup's top scorer, is Gary Lineker, in 1986.
"I said before coming into this tournament that I wanted to prove I could do it on these stages," Kane said.
"I said the Euros were disappointing. If anything I wanted to prove to myself I could score at this level. I've scored at every other level and it was important I did that. I'm extremely proud."
The Three Lions' third-place play-off on Saturday proved to be a game too far for England, who had 24 hours less recovery time than Belgium.
They were also, frankly, outclassed by a team led by Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne. England simply do not have players of that calibre, which is why Southgate constructed the 3-5-2 system to mask the deficiencies. England need to find more creative, controlling midfielders to make the next step forward.
"As a team, I feel there's room for improvement and that's the exciting thing because we are going to learn an awful lot from this experience," Kane said.
"Look, it's been a fantastic campaign, for me personally and the team as well. But there's still stuff I can improve on. Obviously, I can get better. I feel like there have been games in this tournament when I could have done better."
England have a young squad and that average age will drop even further, with Southgate intending to bring in the likes of Ryan Sessegnon (18), Nathaniel Chalobah (23) and Joe Gomez (21), while he revealed he had told Gary Cahill (32), that he would be looking at younger defenders.
"Gary has a desire to still be involved," Southgate said. "He's a player we really respect. His contribution to what we've done, in terms of how he's been with the group, his training and everything else, has been excellent.
"We just have to see how he starts the season. He also knows that generally speaking we are looking at some other players. He doesn't want to finish and I don't want him to finish either."
Kane's mind also turned to the new season with Tottenham Hotspur.
"I want to be playing in four weeks' time," he insisted. "We'll see... It will be a couple of weeks off. Most important thing is mentally. Physically, here, this has been our pre-season." (©The Daily Telegraph)