I am writing the first part of this post a few hours before the game against Colombia. It is amazing how my attitude towards the England football team and our opponents can change without even playing a game. When we were drawn against Colombia my initial thought was that they’re no great shakes. Radamel Falcao was rubbish in England so, therefore, is rubbish. James Rodriguez isn’t fit, and he’s their only real threat. They will be willing workers but ultimately the English will prevail!
As we have got closer to kick-off the scarring nature of past England major tournament failures has etched its way into my brain. Falcao (el Tigre) is a true predatory striker with an outstanding record for any club outside England and his country. If Rodriguez isn’t fit they still have Quintero who is the best player from either side over the dead ball. They have a very good centre-back pairing with Yerry Mina seemingly able to head in from any set-piece delivery.
Maybe it isn’t coming home…
It is now nearly 24 hours after the game and I am confident my blood pressure has finally returned to normal. There is no doubt in my mind that England deserved to win. Colombia didn’t really try and play football. It was clear from the first whistle that the only way Colombia thought they could progress was to unsettle England, and they tried all night. To no avail. Despite the potential psychological damage of conceding in the last minute of normal time and captain Kane hobbling his way through extra time, the England players kept their nerve and won a penalty shootout. Unbelievable.
As we reached penalties my thoughts turned to who was going to be blamed for our exit. Trippier for failing to clear the Mina header? Dier for missing a free header in extra-time? The classic psychology of an England fan. But after penalties, we were instead lauding the England hero, Jordan Pickford. The now Everton goalkeeper was described by Thibaut Courtois as not being “big enough to be a goalkeeper”. Pickford rightly pointed to his agility in his post-match interview, which was clearly on show for his penalty save as well as what will surely be the save of the tournament just before the Colombia equaliser. He has gone from a novice at non-league Darlington 6 years ago to save a crucial penalty in the World Cup for England.
There were other standout performances on the night. Maguire and Stones played with confidence, and kept playing the ball out from the back, even when I’m sure every England fan, like me, was shouting “get it out!” Kieron Trippier was fantastic again and Harry Kane has without doubt been the striker of the tournament.
With Sweden waiting in the quarter-final and the potential of Russia or Croatia in the semis, we are right to be confident of reaching a first World Cup final since 1966. And in a one-off game, anything can happen.
It’s coming home.