Eric Dier and Jordan Pickford wrote their names into England folklore as the Three Lions beat Colombia 4-3 on penalties to secure their first World Cup quarter-final in 12 years and their first shootout victory since 1996.
Gareth Southgate’s side will now play Sweden for a place in the last four on Sunday but – in typical England fashion – they did it the hard way.
But in the third minute of stoppage time Barcelona defender Yerry Mina guided home a header from a corner to force extra-time and England looked shot. Los Cafeteros took control of the game for the first time but could not find a winner.
But Mateus Uribe thumped the bar with Colombia’s next kick, allowing Kieran Trippier to level. Carlos Bacca was then denied by Pickford before Dier stroked home the winner to give England their first penalty triumph since beating Spain at the 1996 European Championships.
Sweden are up next in Samara with England bidding to reach the semi-finals for the first time since 1990. It’s not coming home, but it’s phoned ahead to check dinner’s in the oven. Here’s what we learned…
Pickford proves his doubters wrong
The 1-0 defeat to Belgium in last week’s Group G dead rubber raised more questions than answers. Had Southgate planned this? Were England better off losing? Was Pickford really good enough to be England’s No.1?
The Everton stopper had two heart-in-mouth moments against the eventual group winners and, for the first time at this World Cup, there were concerns over his suitability for the role. There were even questions post-match over whether he’d led with the right hand for Adnan Januzaj’s sumptuous match-winning strike.
But the Sunderland-born stopper answered his critics in fine fashion tonight, securing his place in England legend by becoming the first Three Lions keeper to save a World Cup penalty since David Seaman.
In the game the 24-year-old had very little to do and could not be held accountable for Mina’s leveller. But, in extra time, he produced arguably the save of the tournament by pawing out Uribe’s rasping drive from distance which looked destined to nestle in the top corner and break English hearts.
Of course, his stunning one-handed save in the shoot-out – demonstrating a wrist of steel – will dominate the headlines and assure he, along with Dier, is remembered as the hero of this triumph. That will do the young stopper – England’s youngest at a World Cup – the power of good and he can grow in stature from here to become the keeper many expected Joe Hart to become for England.
Southgate yet to get best from Dele Alli
Tottenham fans have been unconvinced by Dele Alli‘s performances this season and he has been equally unconvincing for England in Russia.
Injured in the dramatic late win over Tunisia, Alli missed out against Panama and was rested for Belgium before being pitched back in tonight. But he never found his rhythm and was replaced late on in a bid to protect the lead.
The 22-year-old’s career so far has been an almost unrelenting ascent and it is easy to forget he is as young as he is. But, such is his talent, great burdens of expectation are placed on his rather slight shoulders. As yet, he has failed to deliver for England at this tournament.
Alli completed just 33 of 42 passes attempted against Colombia – 20 of which went backwards and only five of 12 in the attacking third.
Loftus-Cheek, while far from the answer to all England’s midfield ills, has shown more than Alli in Russia.
Yerry Mina is Premier League-ready
Already subject of West Ham transfer rumours, the Colombian centre-back only joined Barcelona in January yet looks set to leave the Camp Nou this summer as La Liga rules stipulate clubs can only carry three non-EU players.
On the evidence of his tournament, and this match in particular, the 23-year-old will not be short of options if he is made available by the Blaugrana. A strapping figure at 6ft 5ins, Mina used his strapping physique and intelligence to marshal England’s front two of Kane and Raheem Sterling.
He now has three World Cup goals and, unsurprisingly given his frame, is a menace from set pieces. Defensively he led the way with two blocks, nine ball recoveries and ten clearances – seven headed.
With Barça open to moving Mina on, someone could grab themselves a bargain for the new season.
England break Colombia press…but fail to take advantage
The contrast between this game and England’s 1-0 defeat to Belgium in their final Group G fixture could not have been more stark in the first 30 minutes.
The suspicion last Thursday was the Three Lions were not too disappointed to lose that game and finish in second to take their place in the ‘easier’ half of the draw. On the evidence of this that was pretty close to the nail.
Except they couldn’t and the Three Lions really ought to have taken advantage on any one of the numerous occasions they broke the Colombian press, unable to make the most of swift transitions. At the very least it bodes well for a brighter, more exciting future for England.
Colombia lose focus and discipline
Trailing 1-0 the South Americans should have been focusing all their energies on finding an equaliser. Yet for much of the second half they committed more effort to trying to disrupt England and the flow of the game.
As tactics go it isn’t the most aesthetically pleasing but it’s a legitimate approach – for lesser nations. This Colombia side possess no lack of quality and even with star man James Rodríguez cheerleading from the stands (above) thanks to injury they had more than enough quality to make a game of it.
But they refused to. After the penalty award they lost their discipline and focus entirely for a while with the aforementioned Mina leading wild-eyed protestations after Maguire went down in the penalty area.
The Leicester City defender was quick to inform referee Mark Geiger he had not been fouled but Los Cafeteros were desperate for retribution.
It had all begun long before that, though. One of the coaching staff deliberately barged Sterling at half time while, upon award of the penalty, those not arguing Carlos Sánchez’s innocence took to scuffing up the penalty spot. Not that it bothered the nerveless Kane.
Above all it was a shame to see when the game had promised so much. Colombia had grown into the group stages with Radamel Falcao making up for missing out in 2014 with injury, supplemented by the guile and craft of Juan Quintero and Rodríguez behind him.
Much had been expected of them but José Pékerman’s side instead took it to the trenches when they didn’t have to.