Following and watching England is enough to put anyone through the wringer on a regular basis. And Tuesday night was no exception as for the first time in living memory for me, we actually won a World Cup penalty shoot-out!
Yes, you read right but in reality, England should have wrapped the game up inside 90 minutes. Having controlled a majority of both halves, the Three Lions were a whisker away from victory before an injury time equaliser sent the game into extra time and then the dreaded penalties.
After 9 days rest for most of the England squad after Southgate’s decision to rest nearly all his starting XI against Belgium, the start was bright and with attacking intent, I guess what you would expect from such a freshness around the players.
The first half played out like most of this Second Round, bit of sparing, largely uneventful and waiting for the second half onslaught for a Quarter Final place.
The Columbians were seemingly set on frustrating England with what you might call ‘dirty’ tactics, trying to unsettle the young Lions but as a squad they play without fear and quite rightly went ahead from another Harry Kane penalty after he was once again manhandled to the floor amid those in yellow trying every trick in the book to undermine the mind of those in red, just wasn’t going to work.
The referee however wasn’t in control of the game and Columbia were very lucky to keep 11 players on the pitch. It could easily have developed into a game where England lost their heads and headed home, but the mental resolve instilled by Southgate in his players meant they refused to get drawn into the battle and concentrated instead on winning a football match.
And they were very nearly there when Mina powered home a free header deep into stoppage time despite Kieran Trippier’s efforts to keep the ball out of the net sending England closer to those dreaded penalties.
Understandably, the wind was knocked out of the England sails as extra time started and for a time it looked as if the Three Lions were done and Columbia would go on to claim the place in the last 8. As stated above, these players are proving to have a strong mental resolve and grew into extra time as the half hour moved on, Danny Rose on for the injured Ashley Young was almost an unlikely match-winner squeezing a shot the wrong side of the post.
Any English man or woman knows we don’t do penalties and the closer it got to the end of extra time, the less nails the nation of England had attached to their fingers. But this resolve, there to be tested again and to make a huge mark in the history books, all here for the taking.
Heroes ready to be made and up they stepped! As expected, Kane dispatched his penalty as did Marcus Rashford levelling the Columbians at 2-2. After a 3rd dispatched effort from Columbia, Jordan Henderson saw his shot saved and suddenly England were on the backfoot.
But not for long! Uribe crashed his penalty against the bar and Trippier stepped up to send a confident shot past David Ospina to level the scores once more. Jordan Pickford, who had earlier pulled off a stunning save prior to the equaliser then became one of those heroes, Bacca’s effort kept out by the Everton stopper and leave England one kick away from a shootout win.
It was left to Eric Dier, emerging this morning as a replacement for Jamie Vardy who was due to take the 5th penalty, to match his Tottenham team mates and slam the ball into the net to send the nation into meltdown again and England into the last 8 for the first time since 2006.
And now here we are, willing the days away until we get to Saturday and a World Cup Quarter Final against Sweden, the belief growing stronger, a sense this could be ours to lose now, after all it’s coming home……………..