England’s young stars conceded an agonising last-minute goal in normal time but showed tremendous heart to beat Colombia 4-3 on penalties and will now go on to face Sweden in the quarter-finals of the World Cup on Saturday.
With nine days rest under their belts and fielding their best eleven, it was evident from the outset that England had a strategy to get their front three more involved, as Sterling, Lingard and Kane took turns to drop deep and link up play.
It was Harry Kane who would have England’s best chance of the opening period, Trippier exchanging passes with Lingard on the right before whipping over a cross to the far post that was just behind Kane, forcing the Spurs man to crane his neck and plant his header onto the roof of the net.
Colombia, without the injured James Rodriguez, were second best in every department, and it was not until the 21st minute that they caused England any trouble, though hearts were in mouths as shots pinballed about the England penalty area before danger was averted.
Colombia might well have been reduced to ten men in the 42nd minute after a spell of possession on the edge of their penalty area resulted in a free kick 25 yards from goal. With Trippier waiting to take it, Jordan Henderson went down clutching his head following what replays showed was a deliberate headbutt to the chest and chin by Wilmar Barrios. Inexplicably, the referee was not asked to review the offence on the pitch-side screen but was instead instructed by the VAR referee to award a yellow card.
A frustrating first half ended with tempers fraying, England having enjoyed the better of the possession (55%) and having got off eight shots to Colombia’s four, though both teams would have only one on target. The story for England was one of a host of back-heels, flicks and dribbles in the final third and on the edge of the penalty area not quite coming off, and giving Colombia opportunities to counter-attack.
As in previous games, England’s best chances were coming from set-pieces and on 51 minutes England would have another after Harry Kane, jumping for a ball on the left-hand edge of Colombia’s penalty area, was barged in the back by Santiago Arias. Harry Maguire might well have scored from Trippier’s free kick had not a Colombian defender headed it clear, but England would win a penalty from the resulting corner after Harry Kane was manhandled to the ground by Carlos Sanchez.
It would take fully three minutes, during which time Colombia’s players surrounded the referee in protest, scuffed the penalty spot off-camera and attempted to knock the ball from Kane’s hand, before England’s captain would finally take the spot kick, planting the ball firmly down the middle and giving England a lead they thoroughly deserved.
A goal behind, Colombia were now forced to attack which was leading to opportunities for England on the counter. However, it was also clear that they had a secondary game plan: to ruffle their opponents’ composure and, by the closing stages, England were barely hanging on.
With time added on ticking away and England on the verge of victory, Colombia won a free-kick by their own corner flag. Stealing ten yards, Ospina launched the ball long into England’s penalty area where Stones headed it clear. The ball fell to Uribe who, some 40 yards out, let it bounce in front of him before catching it on the volley and smashing a shot that looked for all the world as if it were heading for the top-right hand corner, only for Pickford to produce an astonishing save and palm it out for a corner.
Unmarked, and with Ospina arriving to join him in the box, Yerry Mina jumped highest to head home a 91st minute equaliser and send English hopes crashing.
It was Colombia, re-energised by the equaliser, who started extra time on the front foot, bossing possession and creating the better chances.
Again England were losing composure, unable to string more than a handful of passes together and by half-time, Colombia were looking the more likely to progress. Dier’s passing accuracy was dire, standing at only 28.6% since coming on for Alli, while England had not created a chance of note since the 63rd minute.
Colombia were beginning to fade however, and England would engineer a number of chances before the end of extra time, their forward line combining on one occasion to find Jordan Henderson on the edge of penalty area, and his threaded through-ball finding Rose who flashed a cross-come-shot across the face of goal. Another good opportunity followed, this time Jamie Vardy getting to the by-line from a Kieran Trippier pass and crossing low towards the near post where Rashford seemed certain to get on the end of it only for a Colombian defender to intercept and put it out for a corner.
That would be the last of the action before the referee’s whistle blew to signal the end of extra time and the start of the penalty shoot-out drama to come.
Having won the toss, Colombia elected to go first and, after four well-struck penalties from Falcao, Kane, Cuadrado and Rashford, honours were even before Muriel rifled in a third for the South Americans.
Down 3-2, and with the pressure on England to stay in the contest, Henderson fluffed his lines, firing his shot hard and low but at a good height for Ospina who dived the right way and saved it, giving Colombia the chance to go 4-2 ahead and leave England staring defeat in the face.
But England’s young guns had clearly not read the script. After Uribe hit the crossbar, Trippier cooly brought England level before Pickford saved brilliantly to deny Bacca, and it was now down to Eric Dier in sudden death.
By no means a regular penalty taker, the Spurs man defied the immense pressure on his shoulders, shooting low and hard into the bottom left-hand corner of the goal and helping a delirious England to a first World Cup penalty shoot-out win in four attempts.
The release that came not only from winning the match and reaching the quarter-finals, but also from no longer being the nation that bottled penalties was palpable, and added extra jubliation to the celebrations.
While it would be churlish to look at negatives, England could have made far lighter work of their opponents had they only been able to make the ball stick in the final third. That is surely their goal for the quarter-final against Sweden. If they can do that, there is no reason why they cannot go further and, who knows, perhaps all the way.