England were into knockout football within the last 16 of the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Colombia laid in wait and provided a firm challenge that would certainly test England’s resolve. Gareth Southgate had spoken in the days leading up to the game about “owning the moment” and “being in control of our own destiny” as his young lions targeted a first win in the knockout stages since 2006, please see the full quote below:
"I think life is always about opportunity presenting itself and taking control of it, taking charge of it. We said we didn't want this tournament to take hold of us and push us around. We wanted to attack it and make sure we were in charge of our destiny. Of course, once you get to these games there are really fine margins, so there are games that you know as a team if you want to progress to have success, you have to win these matches. All our preparations around that we feel we are in a good place. Now we have to stop talking and go and deliver."
The pre-match build up was dominated with whether James Rodriguez, Colombia’s star player, would be fit enough to start the game against England. As the line ups were announced, he not only didn’t make the starting 11 but was not within the match day squad, a welcome boost to England even before kick-off. Gareth Southgate made nine changes, resorting back to the 11 who defeated Tunisia in the opening game with Dele Alli back to full fitness to earn a starting place, suggesting a clear system and personnel trusted within the tournament (see Figure 1).
1. Measured, controlled and composed
2. They made history
3. But need to be more clinical
A slow burning first half which sparked into life
The first half started like a basketball match, high tempo, end-to-end football with both teams trying to stamp their authority on the contest. England created the first opportunity after 16 minutes, as Kieran Trippier combined with Jesse Lingard down the right to cross for Harry Kane who stretched every sinew but ultimately headed just over at the far post. The main flashpoint of the first half came with five minutes to go as Wilmar Barrios appeared to headbutt Jordan Henderson, initially in his chest but then raised his head towards Henderson’s chin, inside the box as England prepared for a free-kick. The American referee Mark Geiger brandished only a yellow card after consulting advice from the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) as he was unable to see the incident live in-game. This was a decision that infuriated former England captain Garry Neville in the ITV studio as he stated: “I've accused England many times of being naive. Jordan Henderson goes down and probably doesn't need to but it's a red card, stonewall. You can tell what type of game Colombia want. They want it to be stop-start. They want it to have no flow, it suits them."
After around a four-minute delay, Kieran Trippier put the resulting free-kick wide of the Colombian goal. Jesse Lingard then blazed over in first half stoppage time, when he was well placed to test David Ospina, before a tense half ended with Raheem Sterling being barged as he left the pitch by Colombia’s fitness trainer Julio Urtasun. England controlled large parts of the first half which possibly explains the need for Colombia to try and get England to react to their antics to disrupt their rhythm. England knew they possessed superior quality but would they be allowed to show that in the second half if the game had no flow?
A crazy second half
England’s objective in the second half was clear, maintain their focus and demonstrate their superior quality on the world stage to earn a place within the quarter finals. They were handed a glorious opportunity to break the deadlock, just eight minutes into the second half, as Carlos Sanchez was penalised for wrestling Harry Kane to the ground inside the penalty area from an England corner. England were a threat from set plays throughout this game and the tournament (please see our previous blogs for details), cleverly forcing Colombia to be over-physical to ensure that our players couldn’t get a free run to attack the ball. What transpired again belonged to other sports but England had their opportunity! After a wait of almost four minutes, in which Colombia tried any tactic to put Harry Kane off, from clear attempts by Johan Mojica to scuff up the penalty spot, to trying to get in his face prior to his spot kick. However, all this was to be in-vain as Harry Kane coolly lifted the ball down the centre of the goal beyond the dive of David Ospina, to hand England a deserved lead and rise above the antics! England should have doubled their lead eight minutes later when Dele Alli headed over from a Kieran Trippier cross as England continued to press forward in an effort to kill the game off. Kyle Walker caused many England fans to have heart attacks as he was dispossessed by Carlos Bacca in what looked like controlled possession but resulted in Juan Cuadrado blazing over from an acute angle. Jordan Pickford then came to England’s rescue with a brilliant save to deny a speculative shot from Uribe in the third minute of stoppage time. From the resulting corner, with Colombia throwing everything including their goalkeeper at it, Yerry Mina rose above Harry Maguire to head home to send the Colombian fans into raptures and cause despair for English fans up and down the country. There wasn’t a whole lot England could have done, as it was an excellent leap from Mina, with Trippier on the back post getting his head to the ball to attempt to clear but the header had too much power as it pinged off the bar and went agonisingly into the back of England’s net. England would have to do it the hard way as the game went into extra-time.
Extra-time and please nothing more…
Extra-time is no surprise for England as eight of their last 15 World Cup knockout matches have gone this far, with the first match in this run the 1966 World Cup final. Colombia grew in stature during the first half of extra-time with Falcao heading wide from Mojica’s cross as England struggled to contain a now revitalised Colombian side roared on by their fans. England had to deal with what now felt like an away game but they were certainly not giving up or going out without a fight. Rather, England found a second wind as Danny Rose dragged a shot wide before Eric Dier headed over unmarked, a chance he should have really done better with. England now the more likely to score the winner ultimately ran out of time as the game went to the part of football every English fan dreads, penalties…
Here we go again! A penalty shootout
Well another major tournament and another penalty shootout. England’s record in World Cup shootouts held little hope for success, three shootouts with three defeats, surely history had to change at some point?
Colombia were up first with Falcao scoring the opening spot-kick before Harry Kane drilled in his attempt to level up the shootout. Juan Cuadrado restored Colombia’s advantage before Marcus Rashford slotted home after using a stuttered run up which seemed to take an age! Luis Muriel made no mistake to keep the South Americans in front. Disaster then struck as Jordan Henderson’s penalty was well saved by Ospina low down to his left, Colombia were now on the brink. But, Uribe blasted his effort against the underside of the bar before Kieran Trippier restored England’s parity. England now needed a hero and that came in the form of a big strong left hand from Jordan Pickford who kept out Carlos Bacca’s fierce effort, England were now on the brink! A moment for cool heads, over to you Eric Dier. As he stepped up, he looked unflappable as he concentrated on his technique and stroked the ball past the outstretched glove of David Ospina to spark emotional scenes in Moscow. England had done it, they had won a penalty shootout for the first time in a World Cup and for only the second time in a major tournament since their victory against Spain in Euro 96.
Confidence and control in owning the moment
A key take home message from this game was that the England squad for once had a clear belief in their own abilities. Gareth Southgate summed this up with, "We talked long and hard about owning the process. We kept calm, it's a great credit and the players have taken everything on board. It's a special moment for us. I think we've shown incredible resilience to come back from the huge disappointment on the final whistle and kept our calm. So much work has gone into winning."
Credit must go to the work of England’s performance analysts and goalkeeping coach, Martyn Margetson, who’s meticulous planning played a key part in England’s success in the penalty shootout. Jordan Pickford eluded to this due diligence in his post-match interview "We did our research on them, so we had a fair feeling, and Falcao is the only one who didn't go his way. I don't care if I'm not the biggest keeper, but I have the power to get about the goal.”
Interestingly, the team going first within a penalty shootout have now lost all three shootouts at the 2018 World Cup, a statistic which may suggest the possible psychology of a shootout which England did so well to control. Eric Dier was so calm and collected with the decisive penalty describing it as: "A nervous one! I’ve never really been in a situation like this before. I'm thankful that I scored." An impressive feat for a man who wasn’t supposed to take the decisive fifth penalty as Jamie Vardy, the man who regularly takes them for Leicester City, was down to take it but picked up a groin strain towards the end of extra-time, leaving the duties to Dier!
Man (team) of the match
England had a whole team of heroes as they have qualified for the quarter-final of a World Cup for the first time since 2006. Harry Kane spoke after the game saying this was a moment that the England team had grown up stating: “We spoke a lot about being an inexperienced, young team, but we grew up a lot on that pitch tonight. It was mixed emotions, highs and lows, even in the penalty shoot-out. The boys were fantastic. Penalty shoot-outs are a lot about mentality, and obviously we know England haven’t done great in the past, so it was nice to get that one off our back and it’ll give us huge belief going forward.”
Jordan Pickford will rightly gain a lot of plaudits not only for his stunning save in normal time but because he was the first England goalkeeper to save a penalty in a shootout at a major tournament since David Seaman at the 1988 World Cup against Argentina. Special mention should also go to the imperious Harry Maguire, who is maturing into a complete defender and earned rave reviews from ITV’s pundits, Glenn Hoddle, Garry Neville and Ian Wright:
“Harry Maguire was sensational defensively and with the ball,” said former England manager Hoddle. Neville added: “He deserved a special mention. Sometimes you think about a performance where someone goes from being ‘Are you sure about him? Is he going to be good enough?’ to being a centre-back with a performance like that. It was absolutely brilliant, the courage and stepping in to midfield was absolutely fantastic.” Wright said: “I remember watching him when he played for Sheffield United and he would get the ball and go through the whole team. Sheffield United fans were cheering and they would big him up, the way he passed the ball and ran with the ball. He does it at this level, tried the runs out the back, runs through midfield and take chances with his passes. We need that.”
Looking ahead to the quarter finals and beyond
England’s route to the final is even more clear, as all the last 16 games have taken place. England know they face Sweden on Saturday at 3pm with a chance to progress into the semi-finals of the World Cup where Russia or Croatia will lay in wait!
Quarter Final – Sweden (Saturday 7 July at 3pm)
Semi Final – Russia or Croatia (Wednesday 11 July at 7pm)
Final – Uruguay, France, Brazil or Belgium (Sunday 15 July at 4pm)
Sweden are England’s next challenge with Gareth Southgate under no illusions of the threat they pose, "Sweden are a team I respect hugely. We’ve not got a good record against them, we’ve always underestimated them, they have good players and a clear way of playing, and it’s bloody difficult to play against. And they are greater than the sum of their parts more often than not. That is a hugely difficult game for us. At the moment we are high as a kite, having to recover, getting back to Repino at six in the morning, but what a great game for us to be in." Ashley Young and Kyle Walker both were withdrawn against Colombia with cramp, with Gareth Southgate admitting the match took its toll on his side. He will face an anxious wait on Jamie Vardy with his groin strain being monitored, Dele Alli looking to be troubled by the thigh problem which had previously ruled him out of the games against Panama and Belgium, while Harry Kane was seen holding his back during the match. Hopefully, all of these will make full recoveries and give Gareth Southgate a fully fit squad to select from for the quarter-final against Sweden.
The thing that England needs to take forward now is understanding the importance of putting games to bed. Realistically the game should have finished 1-0 to England in 90 minutes, but an added time corner saw the game go to extra-time and whilst nothing feels better than a win on penalties, if they truly want to progress deep into this tournament then England can’t afford to be putting games to chance. There was no problem defensively as such, the substitutions worked well in solidifying the midfield and fresh forwards helped to stretch the Colombian backline, with Colombia’s goal scoring corner only coming from a speculative effort from distance. The problem was as mentioned throughout that there was a number of ‘clear-cut’ and ‘half-chance’ efforts that England should have buried. The game felt nervy towards the end as a result of only being 1-0 ahead, whereas as a two or more goal cushion, would have made it an easier finish for England. England had 15 shots on target in their first World Cup matches against Tunisia and Panama (scoring eight goals), but have managed just four in their last two games against Belgium and Colombia (scoring one goal). Granted the standard of opposition has increased and with Sweden being as strong defensively, then England have to be clinical in order to capitalise on the limited opportunities that may present themselves.
Before this tournament, a valiant quarter-final defeat was deemed a satisfactory goal but not anymore! England have overcome a brutal battle with Colombia and must now back up their brilliant efforts with another strong performance. This should not be greeted with fear though as the England players and staff should embrace the adventure ahead of them rather than fear the repercussions of a missed opportunity. The relaxed and confident feel from the England team suggest this is a squad enjoying their trip, within potentially their tournament. What a pleasant contrast to the high-pressure, penned-in environment created under previous regimes, credit once again to Gareth Southgate and his staff for creating this culture. Let’s be frank though…this is no pleasure trip. It is not just a learning experience. England are at the World Cup with a job to do. They have hit their stride and can go into the quarter-finals confident, optimistic and ready to capitalise on the opportunity which has come their way. As England fans rejoice at home with renditions of ‘Football’s Coming Home’, the England squad will be focused upon achieving their ambition which may in fact be closer than we could have all possibly dreamed!