The weight of expectation is a constant companion for each of the 32 nations in the FIFA World Cup. But the pressure, intensity and scrutiny on every English side — magnified manifold by its numerous tabloids — defies logic, as on every outing the team is expected to dominate the world, much like its all-conquering colonial predecessors, without a realistic assessment of the team’s capabilities and faults.
Gareth Southgate’s boys, the youngest English squad since the 1962 World Cup, have largely been spared the stress, with many back home looking at it as a team for the future. However, the departure of Argentina, Germany and Spain from its side of the draw has opened an avenue for the team to defy the odds and create history.
READ: COL vs ENG - Key highlights
In the pre-quarterfinals, England, after conceding late, broke its shootout hoodoo to overcome a feisty Colombia after 120 minutes of dramatic play.
The team started off in right earnest as Raheem Sterling earned a free-kick in the fifth minute when Yerry Mina handled the ball, unable to cope with the youngster’s spirited run. Ashley Young’s effort, however, failed to cause any problems for the experienced David Ospina.
The Islander’s best chance came in the 16th minute when Kieran Trippier twisted and turned on the right touchline before lofting a ball to Kane on the far post. The tournament’s highest scorer, left unmarked, couldn’t keep his header on target.
The Colombians, though, were in no mood to allow the English any leeway and Santiago Arias and Juan Cuadrado attacked the English flanks from the left, exploiting the space vacated by the overlapping Young. Radamel Falcao came close to breaking the deadlock in the 22nd minute when he latched on to a block from Harry Maguire, but John Stones was there to close down the space.
As England increased the pressure with Sterling going for some mazy runs, the Colombian defence maintained its concentration, Mina and Davidson Sanchez keeping a close eye on Kane.
The skipper, though, won a free-kick on the edge of the box in the 39th minute but Trippier’s right-footer harmlessly sailed over the wall to thud on the advertising hoardings.
Early in the second half, England again earned a free-kick after Kane was roughed off the ball by Santiago Arias, but Young’s floated delivery was headed out for a corner. In the ensuing melee Carlos Sanchez, perhaps frazzled, rugby tackled Kane, leaving referee Mark Geiger with no alternative but to point at the spot. The Tottenham Hotspur forward hit his penalty hard down the middle, scoring his sixth goal of the tournament in the 58 minute.
Soon, Dele Alli came close to extend England’s lead but his header off an acute angle tantalizingly floated over, even as the Colombian players protested against a possible dive from Maguire. As a frustrated James Rodriguez, forced to watch the proceedings from the stands because of an injury, remonstrated, Colombia, missing its creative force, offered very little threat to the English defence.
With the game in its final 10 minutes of regulation play, Cuadrado’s long-range effort lacked direction to test the Jordan Pickford – the underworked English goalkeeper. But, Colombia’s men on the pitch answered its injured star’s clarion call and Mina dwarfed the opposition to level the scores with two-minutes of injury time played.
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The late relief added more spunk to Colombia’s game and the South Americans hassled and harried England in the first half of extra-time, but the Three Lions hung on to find a second wind for the final 15 minutes. Both sides, however, failed in its quest for the all-important goal and Russia 2018 had its third penalty shootout in three days.
Ospina gave Colombia the early advantage, diving left to save Jordan Henderson’s effort, England’s third spot-kick. But Mateus Uribe promptly hit the bar to make things even-steven. Pickford, guilty of diving early, threw his arm to deny Carlos Bacca and Eric Dier converted England’s fifth penalty to break its shootout jinx.
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The English supporters, clearly out-voiced at the start of the game, raised a rumble as Southgate – who had missed the crucial penalty against Germany in the EURO 1996 semifinals – and his boys crossed another hurdle.