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Saturday, 22 June, 2002, 22:04 GMT 23:04 UK
England's World Cup farewell
The England coach inches through a packed Japanese crowd bidding them farewell
England's players begin their long journey home

Hundreds of fans, both English and Japanese, gathered outside the England team's camp on Saturday to wave them off on their journey home.

The squad returned to London's Heathrow airport just before 2300 BST on Saturday.

Coach Sven-Goran Eriksson gave a press conference just before leaving Japan in which he was keen to look at the positive rather than dwell on the negative.

Open Quote
The group of players has been fantastic and I'm proud to be England manager
Close Quote
Sven Goran Eriksson

And he singled out Nicky Butt as his team's player of the World Cup.

The Manchester United midfielder missed England's first game but impressed in every match thereafter, both creatively and guarding in front of the defence.

"He was fantastic," Eriksson said of Butt as the squad prepared to fly home.

"He played coming back from injury, played well in all the games and has been very very useful."

However, Butt, like all England's players, faded in the second half against Brazil as Eriksson's men bade farewell to the World Cup with a 2-1 quarter-final defeat to Brazil.

And Eriksson conceded his team had missed a "big opportunity".

"Everything was as we wanted and as we expected," Eriksson said of England's efforts before Rivaldo's late first-half effort.

"We handled it very well until we made a small mistake and they scored. Then we were unlucky with the 2-1 goal and we weren't strong enough.

"In the first game against Sweden we had a poor second half as we did against Brazil.

"If we regret anything it was that we failed to do anything 11 against 10 - it was a big, big opportunity.

"I take responsibility for that. We were not as good as I hoped we would be in those two halves."

No blame on Seaman

However, Eriksson saw no reason why his team cannot build on their campaign and is already looking ahead to Euro 2004.

A Japanese fan shows her support for England goalkeeper David Seaman
Seaman finds support in Japan
"I think we are the equal of any team in the world and that's very good with a young team.

"English football is improving. It's getting better and better at club level and we will profit from that."

Eriksson labelled Seaman as the best goalkeeper in England, and captain David Beckham was quick to jump to the defence of his team-mate.

"He's got nothing to be upset about. It was a freak goal and to blame David for that would be a disgrace," he said of Ronaldinhio's winner.

"I had a funny feeling that we were going to go all the way but it wasn't meant to be," he added.

"We're disappointed at going out in the quarter-finals but we're still proud of ourselves for reaching this point.

"Expectations were very high and were set very high and some people thought that we wouldn't get through the group stages.

Open Quote
To reach the quarter-finals with a team full of players playing in their first World Cup is an achievement
Close Quote
David Beckham
"But I'm pleased as a captain for the rest of the players and proud of them."

Beckham also paid tribute to the England supporters.

"I think they've been the best fans at the World Cup," he said.

"We have to thank our nation for the support they've given us because for the last two weeks I'm sure they've had a lift just like we have.

"And of course we have to thank Japan as a nation beacuse the way they've supported us has been amazing."

"Of course we would rather be staying in Japan for another ten days, but it has been a fantastic experience for us all.

"And I think the whole England team will come back all the better for what we have been through here."


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 ON THIS STORY
BBC Sport's Mike Ingham
"England can see the World Cup two ways"
England captain David Beckham
"We're proud of ourselves"
England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson
"I'm very happy with my job"
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GROUP F
  P GD PTS
SWEDEN 3 +1 5
ENGLAND 3 +1 5
ARGENTINA 3 0 4
NIGERIA 3 -2 1

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