One by one they stepped blinking into the brightly lit corridor of uncertainty, clasping their wash bags like comfort blankets.
Daniel Sturridge, so effervescent and full of life in his pre-match interviews and now displaying an expression somewhere between fury and heartbreak.
A red-eyed Wayne Rooney, eyes fixed forward. Jordan Henderson, exposed and overrun in midfield alongside his club team-mate Steven Gerrard, muttering that he had been “told not to stop”.
Post-match mixed zones are odd places at the best of times, crowds of journalists of all nationalities craning over crush barriers as exhausted, spent players pick their way through a maze and look up, down, anywhere but at those imploring them to stop.
But after a crushing disappointment like England’s defeat to Uruguay, one that all but condemns them to leave this swinging World Cup party at the earliest opportunity, they take on an altogether different hue.
Memories of four years ago in Bloemfontein, following the sturm und drang of England’s humiliation at the hands of a lightning quick German side, came rushing back.
Then the experienced, lauded England players so used to being feted for their Premier League clubs looked shell-shocked, as though they could not believe what had just happened to them. Most put on their headphones, fixed their eyes forward and strode in the direction of the team bus.
This time around, after a result that left them not yet mathematically out of the World Cup but felt more decisive than that, the impression was different.
There was no arrogance here, simply a sadness and an undercurrent of bewilderment that after all the endless buildup, the tests, the training, the warm-up matches it could all be over after 180 minutes of football.
Raheem Sterling, so impressive on the pitch against Italy in England’s opening match but underwhelming when shunted to the left in São Paulo to accommodate the return of Wayne Rooney to the centre, all of a sudden looked younger than his 19 years.
The others, all wearing matching Nike warm-up gear, looked bewildered and distraught.
Gerrard, who has stepped up to the mantle as captain but underperformed himself at this World Cup, took responsibility for explaining his side’s performance. Others, including an emotional Joe Hart, also did so.
“It’s a really tough moment for everyone in the dressing room but we need to be professional, keep fighting and pray for that scoreline to go for us,” said Gerrard. And you believed him.
As he talked about the “tough moment” he and the team found themselves in and the “sloppy moments” that allowed Luis Suárez to plunder his two goals, it was as though his international career was flashing before his eyes.
Gerrard has poured as much as anyone into this campaign and you could sense his frustration and hurt that it had all slipped away so soon. In moments like these, it’s clear that those who say international football no longer matters to these players are wrong.
He said it was “not the moment” to talk about his international future but it is hard to imagine him carrying on after this tournament if results conspire to eject England unceremoniously from the group stages.
Earlier, Roy Hodgson had looked equally shell-shocked as he backed himself into a corner of the mixed zone to face questions on England’s perilous position in the group and insist that he would not quit whatever happened against Costa Rica.
Shortly after the England players had filed through, the Uruguayans began bobbing their way through the mixed zone. In contrast to England’s tracksuits they were all sharply suited and booted, sporting matching sky blue ties and shiny gold lapel pins.
Some of the Uruguayan officials brought their children through, while Suárez was predictably mobbed as he delivered his bon mots about making his English critics pay for their lack of respect. To a man, they wore broad, beaming smiles.