England’s squad for World Cup 2018 is the least experienced of any Three Lions squad to participate at finals of the competition. However, Gareth Southgate’s highly inexperienced team have made it through to the quarter-finals of the competition by beating Colombia on penalty kicks.
England looked to be heading through to the quarter-finals in normal time courtesy of a Harry Kane penalty, only for Colombia centre-back Yerry Mina to head home and force extra-time. The extra-time period produced nothing, and a penalty shoot-out decided the outcome.
England hoodoo ended
The England national team is famous for their exits from big international competitions in penalty shootouts. In fact, the Three Lions had never won a shoot-out before their victory on Tuesday night against Colombia.
Much maligned Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford was the hero of the hour saving a Colombian penalty before Eric Dier slotted home the winning spot-kick.
In truth, the criticism of Pickford from the Belgium game was ridiculous. However, the former Sunderland star produced two big saves. Firstly, he produced a stunning save in stoppage-time to keep out an effort from Mateus Uribe.
Unfortunately, for Pickford, his defenders switched off from the resulting corner and Mina headed home. However, Pickford was not to be denied his moment, and he produced a brilliant save from Carlos Bacca’s shot in the penalty shootout. He deserves immense credit for his display, as he did very little wrong throughout the game.
England needed great mental strength
Colombia boss Jose Pekerman had the gall to criticise the England player’s antics. However, England’s players were responding to the at times ridiculous antics from the South Americans.
Take away the headbutt from Wilmar Barrios on Jordan Henderson. We still had the Colombia players berating the referee, attempting to unsettle the penalty spot before Kane’s penalty kick and generally unsavoury behaviour.
The internationally inexperienced England players did quite well to keep their cool. It was a test of their mental strength more than their football ability. The South Americans struggled to play much football in-between all the gamesmanship going on.
Sweden will be a different test
England will now face Sweden in the quarter-finals of the competition. The Scandinavians have proven in Russia and in qualifying that they are not a team to underestimate.
It will be a completely different game. The Swedes are unlikely to use gamesmanship as much as Colombia attempted to. They will be solid, physical and try to hit England on the counter-attack.
The English players will undoubtedly be more comfortable playing against a European opponent. Sweden are a team of hard-working individuals, but unlike in the Zlatan Ibrahimovic era, are less dependent on one player. They are a team that are more than the sums of their parts.
If England’s key players turn up, then the Three Lions have a fantastic chance to reach the semi-finals of the World Cup for the first time in 28 years.
England may never have a better chance to make the last four or even final of a World Cup. The inexperienced players have passed the Colombia test. Now let us see if they can pass the Swedish test.
Did England deserve to progress to the quarter-finals of the World Cup?