'We will go far at Euro 2020'
The bottom line was that England had lost in familiar circumstances against the first top team they faced but still no one in Moscow on Wednesday night would have doubted that something had fundamentally changed.
Inside the Luzhniki Stadium, a full hour after losing their semi-final 2-1 to Croatia, the 10,000 England supporters who had made their way to Russia were waiting. They were singing loudly and, when the players and Gareth Southgate came back out to show their appreciation, ready to emphatically hail them as heroes.
Then, after a further 30 minutes as the players left the dressing-room and headed on to the team bus, you could sense genuine sadness not just that a journey together was ending but also excitement at the prospect of all getting back together again for new challenges later this year.
Significant deficiencies remain, but something absolutely fundamental has been fixed about the whole England experience. It does not feel like a chore. It does not feel like an unwanted break from club matters. And it feels like an environment in which you can enhance, rather than harm, your reputation. None of this guarantees better results, but it is still a far healthier platform on which to try.
Two players who sum up this generation are Kieran Trippier - surely a shoo-in for any team of the tournament - and Harry Maguire. You could not hope to meet two more down-to-earth characters and they just looked baffled by past stories of club cliques harming the internal atmosphere and players dreading the thought of representing their country.
"I can speak on behalf of every single one of the players, every time they get called up for England, they all love representing their country," said Trippier. "Everybody gets on. Everybody is interacting. There are no egos. Everybody wants to win for each other and for the manager.
"Most important has been the togetherness of the players and fans. We are communicating with the fans a lot better."
It was certainly fascinating to hear Maguire identify what had been the pre-tournament priority. "Our main objective was to connect with the fans and make sure they are proud of the team at the end of the tournament," he said. "We feel we have done that."
More is of course needed to win something than good team spirit and a positive mood. Reaching only a third World Cup semi-final was greatly helped by the sort of kindly draw that is unlikely to be repeated. England still need to be better in midfield at retaining possession, even if the way they have played out from defence has been hugely encouraging. They should perhaps also be encouraged to get so far without Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Dele Alli and Marcus Rashford shining at their brightest.
Trippier is confident that it will not now be another 22 years before a major tournament semi-final. "It's a great future going forward, trust me, with this team," he said. "With this manager, with these players, the team is only going to progress.
"I think we will go far in the next tournament because we have got great chemistry, great team spirit and a very young team, who wants to succeed and do the country proud."
That next tournament, of course, is Euro 2020 when Wembley will stage both semi-finals as well as the final. There will also be matches in Glasgow, Dublin and Amsterdam.
Russia 2018 was ultimately not the stage at which England would end 52 years of hurt. But given how far England had fallen at the 2014 World Cup and 2016 European Championships, it has been a tournament for English people to reconnect with international football and, for that alone, it has been a considerable success.
Sunday Indo Sport