England reverses World Cup history, beats Colombia on penalties

For months leading up to the 2018 World Cup, England fans had been sold on the idea that this time, everything would be different. That this was a new era. That this was a new team, unburdened by the past, headed to Russia to create its own fresh history.

And on Tuesday in Moscow, all the prophecies proved correct.

With six penalty shootout eliminations in major tournaments since 1990 hanging over their heads, these Three Lions showed they really are different. They beat Colombia 4-3 on penalties after a 1-1 draw over 120 minutes. A massive Jordan Pickford left hand and a calm Eric Dier decider sent England to the quarterfinals.

Yerry Mina’s header in stoppage time had canceled out Harry Kane’s second-half penalty. Thirty scoreless minutes of extra time sent the game to the stage at which England had crashed out in 1990, 1998 and 2006.

And through three rounds of the shootout, the same old script was unfolding. Falcao stepped up and powered the opener past Pickford, right down the middle. Kane answered by finding the bottom corner. Juan Cuadrado and Marcus Rashford both held serve. Colombia’s Luis Muriel did as well. Then David Ospina flew to his left to deny Jordan Henderson and give Los Cafeteros the lead.

Mateus Uribe, however, gave England second life. He followed Ospina’s save by smacking his shot off the crossbar. Kieran Trippier then found the top corner to level the shootout at 3-3. Pickford, who hadn’t played in a single competitive game for England before the World Cup, saved from Carlos Bacca. And Dier snuck his winner past Ospina.

England will move on to face Sweden in the quarterfinals on Saturday. And with the right side of the bracket wide open after Russia’s upset of Spain, it might just be a favorite to advance to its first World Cup final since 1966.

Football might just be coming home.

England’s penalty shootout demons

Penalties are as much, if not more a mental challenge than a physical one, which made memories of failures past all the more overbearing.

England’s penalty hex began in 1990, when it fell to West Germany in the semifinals. Six years later at the Euros, none other than current England manager Gareth Southgate missed his spot kick to send England crashing out, again to Germany in the semifinals. In ’98, the defeat was to Argentina in the Round of 16.

This century, the heartbreak continued in 2004, when David Beckham missed in a Euro quarterfinal shootout against Portugal. Two years later at the World Cup, in another quarterfinal, the opponent was the same, and so was the result. Most recently, at Euro 2012, Italy compounded England’s misery.

But in 2018, England was ready. It was confident. And it exorcised all those demons.

England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford makes his decisive penalty save against Colombia in the 2018 World Cup Round of 16. (AP)
England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford makes his decisive penalty save against Colombia in the 2018 World Cup Round of 16. (AP)

England’s set piece threat

England came into the 2018 World Cup as prepared as anybody. A significant portion of its prep was set pieces. Southgate and assistant coach Allan Russell, who most recently coached in lower-tier American leagues, came equipped with dozens of intricate free kick and corner routines in their back pockets. They were the source of more than half of England’s group stage goals.

And they were the Three Lions’ main threat in a first half that was tense and fairly well played, but that lacked penalty box action.

England, though, found that besting Tunisia and Panama with the set plays was a lot easier than finding a way past Colombia. Every corner turned into a mass wrestling match. Most balls into the box were won by Colombia’s towering center backs, Mina and Davinson Sanchez.

In the second half, though, Colombia’s physicality doomed it. Carlos Sanchez dragged down Kane as the English striker broke left out of a stack of Three Lions players. American referee Mark Geiger pointed to the penalty spot.

Colombian players protested. But Geiger, rightly, was unfazed. And Kane converted:

His goal held up as the only difference between the two sides until second-half stoppage time.

Should Colombia have been down to 10 men?

The final 15 minutes of the first half got chippy, with Geiger struggling to control the game. The main flashpoint was an England free kick at the edge of the box. With players jostling for position, Colombia’s Wilmar Barrios drove his head up into Jordan Henderson’s jaw.

Was it violent conduct? The official laws of the game define violent conduct as “when a player uses or attempts to use excessive force or brutality against an opponent when not challenging for the ball … regardless of whether contact is made.”

That still left Geiger with a judgement call. Was it “excessive force or brutality”? Geiger chose the easy route and showed Barrios a yellow. Colombia was fully off the hook when Trippier sent the free kick wide.

But the chippiness didn’t subside. And it culminated with a Colombian assistant coach appearing to throw a shoulder at Raheem Sterling as the England forward trotted off the field at halftime.

The second half brought more of the same, especially after the penalty. Every foul – and there were many of them, 23 in all by Colombia – saw Colombian players swarm Geiger, furious. Frankly, they were lucky to get away with as few yellow cards as they did – and perhaps lucky to get away without a red.

But after Kane put England ahead, they needed a goal. For 85 minutes, with James Rodriguez out injured, they never looked like getting one.

England loses control late

England was comfortable … until it wasn’t. It was calm … until Kyle Walker haphazardly gave the ball away at midfield, setting Colombia away on a break. Cuadrado fired well over the bar from 12 yards out, granting Walker a reprieve. But nerves spiked.

Ten minutes later, with England almost over the line, Uribe forced Pickford into an extraordinary save with a 30-yard rocket. Pickford barely tipped it around the post.

But from the resulting corner, Colombia’s first of the game, Mina rose above Harry Maguire to equalize:

England was so close. And yet now so far.

Extra time and penalties

England entered extra time in survival mode, with Dier on for Dele Alli in a more defensive setup. It struggled to flip back into its progressive mindset. It hadn’t had a non-headed shot from open play since the first half. It didn’t get one in a tight first half of extra time, either.

The Three Lions found their legs in the second half of extra time, and were finally on the front foot once again. But they couldn’t find a winner. Danny Rose, on as a substitute, flashed a tight-angle shot just past the far post. Dier had the one glorious chance, a free header on the six-yard box off a corner. But he skied it.

In penalties, though, all that preparation came back into play. England had done its research. Pickford said after the game that only Falcao took his spot kick differently than expected.

At the fourth attempt, Pickford’s strong hand got England its first penalty shootout victory at a World Cup … ever.

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Henry Bushnell covers global soccer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at henrydbushnell@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell, and on Facebook.

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