MOSCOW, July 3, 2018 – So an end, at last, to 22 years of hurt. England have won a penalty shootout. Not any old penalty shootout but a shootout against feisty opponents to secure a place in the quarter-finals of the World Cup.
Harry Kane and his battered and bruised team-mates defeated Colombia 4-3 in a shootout in the Spartak Stadium after the Cafeteros has snatched the right to extra-time with an equaliser two minutes into second-half stoppage time.
England will now play Sweden, 1-0 earlier winners over Switzerland, in Sochi on Saturday for the right to return to Moscow for a semi-final against host Russia or Croatia. Their confidence will be immense after not only returning to last eight for the first time since 2006 but ending the curse of the shootout.
Yet they teettered on the brink.
Colombia were the better team in the first half of the extra halfhour and the only one creating chances. Somehow England survived the shattering blow to morale wrought by Yerry Mina’s late leveller to Harry Kane’s 57th-minute penalty.
Yet the shootout itself brought more drama and nerve-jangling tests of character.
Firstly, it took place in front of a massed bank of Colombian fans, alternately cheering and screaming their derision as the penalty takers alternated. Secondly Colombia won the right to shoot first and always hold the initiative.
As if that were not daunting enough, Jordan Henderson saw his kick, Engand’s third, magnificently saved by keeper David Ospina. But then destiny took a new twist: Mateus Uribe thumped his kick against the bar, Kieran Trippier equalised, Carlos Bacca had his kick saved by Jordan Pickford and Eric Dier rapped home the decider.
Cue devastation among the Colombians and delirium in the England camp. Relief and satisfaction also, of course, for England manager Gareth Southgate whose team had made long-belated amends for his own famous penalty failure against Germany in the semi-finals of Euro 96.
That was the failure which began a sequence of shootout failures. Not since the quarter-final at Euro 96, against Spain, had England won on penalties.
Colombia and their Argentinian coach, Jose Pekerman, might reflect on their flight home that they should not have waited until so late in the game to start playing their football, needlessly wasting time and energy earlier in the hustling and harassment of both match officials and opponents.
The South Americans had been without injured playmaker James Rodriguez for only their second appearance in the round of 16 while England were fixated on winning their first knockout game in a major finals since they defeated Ecuador in 2006 in Germany.
To try to right that record manager Gareth Southgate recalled the eight players rested for the defeat by Belgium in their final group G game. This also meant a return to duty for Dele Alli who had been injured during the original 2-1 win over Tunisia and thus had missed the 6-1 thrashing of Panama which confirmed England’s qualification.
England forced early corners on both left and right flanks which came to nothing amid some customary argy-bargy of pulling and pushing in the penalty box in a high-speed but frustratingly blunt start to the action.
After the interval England pushed forward again and were rewarded with a penalty after Kane was bundled over by defensive midfielder Carlos Sanchez. The finals’ top scorer thumped home his sixth goal after United States referee Mark Geiger had to quell another lengthy mob protest.
Colombia reacted with attacking substitutions and, better late than never, finally began expressing the skill and teamwork which had brought them this far. Two minutes into stoppage time a drive from Uribe was tipped wide by Pickford and Mina headed home the corner.
Colombia, as extra time began, believed the quarter-finals were within reach. But fate had not finished its work.