A little over 22 years ago Gareth Southgate walked back from the Wembley penalty spot distraught having just missed the decisive kick in the Euro ’96 semi-final, last night he hugged his staff and players in joy having guided England to their first ever penalty shootout success at a World Cup. And with that England feels a very different place today, the cynicism that has (justifiably) followed England around for the last decade has gone, it doesn’t mean England are destined to win this World Cup but it does mean English fans once again view their national team as something to be proud of not a source of derision.
The build up was dominated by talk of momentum and whether or not England would click after most of their players took to the pitch for the first time in 9 days. The England team as expected was the one that opened the tournament against Tunisia whilst the Colombia team sheet contained a surprise- no James Rodriguez even amongst the substitutes.
With their talisman missing Colombia seemed bent on attempting to win by other means. England started at a high tempo, pressing Colombia high up the pitch but clear-cut opportunities were hard to come by against a tight Colombia defence. The clearest chance came when Kieran Trippier broke free down the right and clipped a cross in for Harry Kane but he couldn’t get enough direction on the header from a tight angle. But the biggest talking point came when England won a free kick 20 yards from goal, in the jockeying around the box Wilmar Barrios butted Jordan Henderson and was bizarrely punished with a yellow card rather than red. Then as the players were departing for half time the Colombia fitness coach elbowed Raheem Sterling in front of the referee, earning himself a caution.
The second half followed in similar fashion with Colombia continuing to focus more on disrupting England than going forward themselves. On 54 minutes England won a corner and formed a 4 man line in the box before moving into position, it caused mayhem and lead to Carlos Sanchez to piggybackig Harry Kane- Penalty England! Some Colombia players including Radamel Falaco argued whilst others simply tried to scuff the penalty spot. With the referee losing control Kane had to wait 3 minutes to take the spot kick, not that it made much difference as he smashed home down the centre of the goal. More needle followed with Henderson and John Stones picking up unnecessary yellow cards whilst Colombia had 5 names in the book with Falcao fortunate to stay on at all.
England were in control but replacing Dele Alli with Eric Dier 9 minutes from time seemed to drain England’s attacking impetus whilst bringing on Jamie Vardy saw Kane drop deeper. Colombia started to push players forward and looked more threatening with Kyle Walker giving the ball away and Juan Cuadrado missing a good chance. But Colombia weren’t building sustained pressue and out of the blue 2 minutes into injury time substitute Mateus Uribe hit a stunning 30 yard strike, clawed away for a corner. From the corner with even David Ospina up in the England box defender Yerry Mina buried a header to send the huge Colombian contingent in the crowd into raptures 1-1 and extra time ensued,
In the first period England were rattled and for the first time and struggled to string 3 passes together whilst Colombia buoyed by the goal looked dangerous with Falcao putting a header just wide. In the second period England regained their composure and started to pass the ball again with Kieran Trippier a menace down the right, but England couldn’t fashion a winner and it went to the dreaded shoot-out.
England had lost their 3 previous World Cup shoot-outs and 6 from 7 in major competition. Colombia went first and Falcao was never going to miss and was followed by Kane, Cuadrado & Rashford who all blasted home perfect penalties. Then in round 3 Luis Muriel sent Pickford the wrong way and disaster appeared to strike when Henderson’s kick was brilliantly saved by Ospina. Uribe stepped up and with the chance to move Colombia to match point went for power and smashed the ball against the crossbar. Now Trippier stepped up and powered a perfect spot kick into the top left hand corner 3-3 and now it was sudden death. Up stepped Carlos Bacca who blasted down the middle but Pickford acrobatically got a hand to it to push the ball over the bar and now it was down to Dier. The Tottenham stepped up due to Jamie Vardy getting a late injury and confidently drilled low to the left to beat Ospina and send England into the last 8.
The weight of penalty pain was lifted as ITV pundits Wrighty, Lee Dixon and the Neviller hugged and Gary Lineker confessed to crying. So infamous has become England’s penalty heartache the foreign press were shocked with L’Equipe declaring England ‘Chasseurs De Fantomes’- rough translation ‘Ghost Hunters!’ Any lingering doubts England have the right manager were slain last night, Southgate’s focus on combatting fatigue and fear have reaped a reward many thought would just never come. All young sides who go on to win big experience these trials by fire- remember Spain’s bad old days of under achievement? A significant milestone for that side was defeating Italy on spot kicks at Euro 2008, for Croatia just 2 days ago we saw them overcome a frustrating performance to end a 20 year drought in knockout matches. For England’s young team this is enormous and now Sweden await in Samara this Saturday. And most importantly it’s annoyed Diego Maradona making this a priceless triumph.
Pickford 9- Up yours Courtois!Pickford had little to do for 92 minutes but produced a stunning save in injury time and was excellent in extra time as England struggled, oh and then saved a penalty. And to think 6 weeks ago we were debating if England needed Joe Hart in the squad for his experience!
Walker 6- One awful mistake but continues to look (mostly) assured in his new role. But may be under pressure for his place when England face the Swedish aerial onslaught.
Stones 8- Has grown into this tournament and an England shirt, looks strong in defense and assured on the ball.
Maguire 8- outstanding, aside from a rubbish dive and apology. He put to bed defensive concerns and remains an asset coming forward and at set plays.
Trippier 8- The find of the tournament who continues to provide England’s best creative option down the right.
Henderson 7- Quiet but effective, played more as a defensive screen than deep playmarker but a vital cog in this side.
Alli 6- Still looks slightly off colour, does Southgate bring back Loftus-Cheek for Sweden.
Young 7- Another effective game and combined well with Sterling but England look more comfortable with the naturally left-sided Danny Rose.
Lingard 7- Had he been a little cuter he’d have won a penalty and wasn’t quite at his best but remains England’s best option down the middle.
Sterling 7- Still not happening in front of goal but his pace and dribbling made England dangerous on the counter, when he went off they lost momentum.
Kane 8- Has now equalled Gary Lineker’s golden boot performance and remains the man all teams fear, paramount to England’s hopes.
Vardy 6- Not a natural partner for Kane and injured towards the end. Had one half chance but was ruled offside.
Dier 7- Poor in midfield, not a great game manager but stuck away that most important kick of the night. Looks far more at home on the right of the back 3.
Rashford 6- Didn’t do much other than smash home his penalty, I still see him having a big moment before England are through in Russia.
Football fan, follower of England, Leeds and will watch any game possible (between raising twins!)