“It’s coming home…it’s coming…” has been heard out of every car radio and back garden around England this week as the promise of Gareth Southgate’s team grows amongst popular opinion. Some of the tournament’s big favourites have departed early, which has only inflamed the debate over how far this England side could go. A tricky first knockout game awaited at the Spartak Stadium in Moscow against José Pékerman’s organised and dangerous Colombia. Severely hampered by the news that star Bayern Munich attacking midfielder James Rodríguez was out through injury, the Los Cafeteros implemented a solid 3-man defensive midfield with young duo Jefferson Lerma and Wílmar Barrios sitting alongside experienced Fiorentina stalwart Carlos Sanchez, employed in the Carrilero role.
Despite England starting the brighter of the teams, there was very little in terms of chances or expressive play in the opening half. The movement of Raheem Sterling, Dele Alli and especially Jesse Lingard did cause the Colombians a number of issues. The Manchester United man cleverly played in the dynamic Kieran Trippier, whose teasing cross from the right was narrowly headed over by Harry Kane in what was the best chance of the half. Lingard could have put England ahead just before half time, however he snatched at an effort at the edge of the penalty area after a good clearance from Davinson Sánchez. Pékerman’s side had defended stoutly – Sánchez and the impressive Yerry Mina allowing nothing in behind their backline. A scuffed long-range effort from Juan Fernando Quintero was all the Colombians could manage as an attacking threat as England controlled possession.
Southgate’s side again took the initiative after the break as a number of set pieces piled pressure on the Colombians at the back. It was a matter of time before all the shenanigans (the blocking, jostling and shirt-pulling) in the penalty area were going to cause a flash point. Carlos Sanchez got himself in a pickle with Kane and, without eyes on the ball, hauled the England captain down as a corner was whipped in. The referee made no hesitation in pointing to the spot. Kane stepped up and emphatically fired his penalty past the diving David Ospina to give The Three Lions a deserved lead. It could have been two shortly after – Harry Maguire winning a header and Trippier again delivering a fantastic ball to the back post that Dele Alli could only head over from close range. Into the last 15 minutes and Colombia abandoned all defensive pretence. 21 fouls and 7 yellow cards in less than half an hour of football defined the scrappy, disingenuous character the game was now being played in. England soaked up everything Colombia could throw at them but you always felt they would give Los Cafeteros a chance – Kyle Walker the guilty party, giving the ball away under no pressure but Juan Cuadrado could only fire the chance high and wide from the edge of the box.
The game was petering out but then, out of nothing, drama! First, a sensational opportune strike from Mateus Uribe is acrobatically saved by Jordan Pickford. From the resulting corner, John Stones leaves his man Yerry Mina, whose powerful downward header bounces up and over Trippier on the line to secure a last-gasp equaliser for the jubilant Colombians. Extra time started in the same vain as the 90 minutes finished – two sides competing for everything, looking for an advantage in every foul and contentious tackle. It was enthralling to watch. The Colombians had their tails up as England desperately tried to recover and regain control of the match. Perkerman’s side could sense a victory and dominated possession in the middle of the park throughout extra time. Excellent work from Johan Mojica down the left flank resulted in a lovely cross that Carlos Bacca headed wide under pressure from Harry Maguire. England settled in the second period and nearly produced a winner after good work from Eric Dier and Jesse Lingard released substitute Danny Rose, but the Tottenham Hotspur wing-back could only flash his cross-shot narrowly wide of Ospina’s far-post.
Penalties – after five succesful penalties, Jordan Henderson stepped up and saw his penalty outstandingly saved by Ospina with one hand. Mateus Uribe then smashed his penalty against the crossbar to even things up. Jordan Pickford brilliantly saved Bacca’s penalty before Eric Dier converted to send England into the quarter finals!
Man of the Match: ERIC DIER!!!!
Best: Kieran Trippier, Raheem Sterling, Harry Kane (ENG), Yerry Mina, Davinson Sánchez, Johan Mojica (COL)