Well wasn’t that absolutely typical? Didn’t you just know that if England were to reach the Quarter Finals they would do it the hard way and in dramatic fashion? Just when those of us struggling to keep the faith after recent tournament failings had started to believe again, England did what they always do, except this time they didn’t. This time instead of the heartbreak of another glorious failure, somehow and from somewhere they found the courage and the heart to win a penalty shootout and secure their passage to the last eight of the World Cup.
In truth the match itself wasn’t great to watch, a war of attrition, niggle and spoiling tactics that had to be endured rather than enjoyed; but those of us long in the tooth enough to remember the devastating drama of Turin 1990, Wembley 1996 and Saint-Étienne 1998, don’t care in the slightest. Just for once England found a way to progress at the very moment when we thought all was lost.
In fairness Colombia should have been reduced to ten men after Wilmar Barrios’ ridiculous head-butt on Jordan Henderson towards the end of the first half, but for all their huff and puff England were struggling to create any real threat save for the odd dangerous-looking set piece. It came as no surprise that the breakthrough came as the result of a penalty, which Harry Kane dispatched for the third time in this tournament for his sixth goal in total. Then right at the death, it was with a sense of inevitably that we watched Mina’s header bounce over Trippier and nestle into the net in stoppage time. It was oh so typically England!
Looming throughout extra time was the spectre of penalties, England’s undoing on oh so many occasions. When Jordan Henderson’s penalty was saved that familiar sinking feeling returned, we had been here before and we felt sure we knew how this story ended. Then something incredible happened, first Uribe rattled the crossbar with his effort, then Trippier calmly converted, Pickford saved from Bacca and finally, fatefully, Eric Dier sealed the win.
Quite what this game tells us about England’s chances of ending the fifty-two years of hurt is difficult to process. One school of thought suggests that with Sweden up next followed by a potential semi-final against Croatia or Russia we have never had a better chance of reaching our first ever final on foreign soil. The other tells us that we have struggled as soon as we encountered opposition of a better than mediocre calibre. The truth probably sits between the two views.
If England do manage to get to the semi-final they will have exceeded most people’s expectation in terms of progression in the tournament, but in considering the opposition and the teams they will have avoided, it would seem to be much more of a par score. All we know so far is that England have kept the tournament alive for the congregated masses in the pubs and bars back at home at least until Saturday and possibly into next week. It remains to be seen whether Gareth Southgate’s men really are capable of bringing football home, but just for once and for the first time in a long time it is nice to believe again.
Quarter Final Preview
We are pleased to report relative success with our Round of 16 predictions (https://football-nerd.org/2018/06/29/football-nerd-world-cup-russia-2018-reflections-on-the-group-stage/): having picked the correct winners in six of the eight games, the only ones we didn’t get were Russia’s shock penalty win over Spain and Sweden eliminating Switzerland, although as Arsenal fans who have seen it on numerous occasions, we should have remembered Granit Xhaka’s ability to ignore players running into dangerous areas.
Looking ahead to the Quarter Finals, we are hopeful of some more highly entertaining and dramatic matches:
France v Uruguay
It is probably too much to hope for a repeat of France’s exhilarating victory over Argentina and in many ways Uruguay’s deep-lying and more solid defense may frustrate the French and in particular teenage sensation Kylian Mbappé. To prevail, France will also have to keep Luis Suárez quiet, although it looks like his strike partner Edinson Cavani might miss out; and they will also need Pogba and Griezmann to show, at long last, that they can play together.
Almost too close to call but being blindly optimistic: France to win somehow!
Brazil v Belgium
Two of the favoured teams from the start, whichever one emerges as the winner will more than likely be considered as strong favourites to win the trophy. Brazil seem to be improving as the tournament progresses meanwhile Belgium’s come from behind win over Japan probably raised as many questions as it answered.
Brazil to win.
Sweden v England
Sweden are well drilled and have proven a tough nut to crack so far in this tournament, opening up their defence is likely to prove difficult but England have looked threatening from set-pieces and that might prove the route once again.
It looks like being another tense encounter but being carried on a wave of optimism- England win!
Russia v Croatia
The hosts have over-achieved in even getting this far. While, despite their travails against Denmark, Croatia have looked decent throughout.
It looks like being the end of road for Russia- Croatia win.