England break the curse in fiery affair

Jordan Henderson looked confident as he walked towards the penalty spot. He even juggled the ball as he was preparing to take England’s third kick of their decisive penalty shootout against Colombia. The shootout was evenly poised. Colombian captain Radamel Falcao had gone first, and made no mistake. His opposite number, English striker Harry Kane, scored his penalty with similar confidence. Juan Cuadrado, Marcus Rashford and Luis Muriel took the next three shots, and all of them scored. The pressure on each kick, especially each English one, was increasing. Henderson’s penalty was good, hit with power and precision to the right. Unfortunately for Henderson, Colombian goalkeeper David Ospina was ready. He made a brilliant save, and England seemed done. They had worked determinedly to break their penalty shootout jinx at major tournaments. They had prepared themselves mentally and physically for the dreaded tiebreaker that has so often proved England’s undoing. Now, it seemed that, despite their best efforts, they had lost on penalties again. Turin 1990, London 1996, Saint-Étienne 1998, Lisbon 2004, Gelsenkirchen 2006 and Kiev 2012, England’s previous penalty shootout defeats, were about to be joined by Moscow 2018.

It started brightly enough for England. They had most of the early play, and created some good chances. Kane came especially close to scoring when he got on the end of a dangerous Kieran Trippier cross, but he couldn’t quite put the tough header away and it landed on the roof of the net. Colombia began to settle, but their sole attacking threat was a couple of long shots from Juan Fernando Quintero. England had a few more chances, but they never really looked like scoring as the first half drew to a close. The first half did, however, set the tone for what was to come with a few heated incidents.

The first flashpoint involved Trippier and Falcao. The English right-back pushed into the Colombian striker from behind, the Colombian striker went down, and Colombia received a free-kick. Then the pair exchanged words as Trippier seemed to accuse Falcao of exaggerating the contact. It didn’t seem too unfair an accusation considering the incident, but Falcao shot to his feet immediately, determined to address this slight on his honour. A couple of minutes later, Harry Maguire and Cuadrado looked like they were about to come to blows. Had other players been in the vicinity, blows may well have ensued. There was an undercurrent of tension bubbling up, and it looked like things might just go crazy.

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Raheem Sterling (front) is fouled by Yerry Mina as they battle each other for the ball. There was plenty of physical play during the game, and it resulted in a contest that was often heated.

Then they did. A larger fracas broke out when Kane was brought down on the edge of the area, although none of it actually stemmed from the original foul. Instead, the trouble originated from the wall. Colombia arranged their wall effectively, before England decided to get involved in an attempt to disrupt Colombia’s defence of Trippier’s shot on goal. Amidst the chaos, Wílmar Barrios softly headbutted Henderson in the chest. Henderson went to ground, England remonstrated, the video assistant referee intervened, and eventually Barrios was fairly lucky to escape with a yellow card. All the jostling was a waste of time in the end, as Trippier didn’t even put his free-kick on target.

Mateus Uribe had the next penalty after Henderson’s miss. Colombia now held the upper hand, and all Uribe needed to do to consolidate that advantage was put his penalty past Jordan Pickford. For Pickford, it was do or die. He needed to save the kick, or England would almost certainly be consigned to another penalty shootout defeat. Uribe went high, aiming for the top corner. It was impossible to save. It was also off target, hitting the underside of the bar and bouncing out. England were suddenly back in it. Trippier slammed his penalty home. Scores were level.

There was another minor incident as the increasingly spiteful half drew to a close, as Raheem Sterling seemingly sent Yerry Mina crashing to the turf in an off-the-ball coming together. It turned out that Sterling had done nothing of the sort, and Mina had just taken a massive dive before angrily remonstrating with his supposed assailant. The Henderson-Barrios incident hadn’t yet cooled temperatures, and American referee Mark Geiger was desperately fighting to keep the game under control.

Then, shortly after half time, Colombia won a penalty and sparked the biggest incident of the match. It wasn’t surprising. As the English prepared to take a corner, four English attackers – and Colombian Carlos Sánchez – stood in an orderly line awaiting the delivery. Sánchez wasn’t really meant to be there, and England didn’t really seem to want him around, but he wasn’t willing to let Kane out of his sight. Or, more importantly, he wasn’t willing to let Kane out of his grasp. Referee Geiger gave the customary talk on holding in the box, but Sánchez clearly paid little attention. The ball was eventually put into the area, Sánchez attempted to block Kane from running at the ball, and eventually Kane went crashing to the turf as Sánchez seemingly attempted to mount him. Sánchez’s actions wouldn’t have been out of place at a rodeo, and Geiger didn’t hesitate in pointing to the spot. England were happy with the call. Colombia were incensed.

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Harry Kane celebrates after putting England ahead with a well-taken penalty. The lead lasted until the 93rd minute of the match.

They remonstrated very vocally with Geiger, forcing a delay in the game as they made their feelings clear. Sánchez and Falcao led the protests, but there were consistently four or five Colombians surrounding Geiger and demanding that the egregious injustice they had just suffered be rectified. Eventually, the kick was taken, and scored quite easily by Kane. England had the lead, and Colombia didn’t seem ready to get it back just yet. They were just angry about how the game had panned out, and the result was chaos.

Falcao clashed with John Stones immediately after the goal. Then he accused Maguire (not unfairly) of sharp practice as the big centre-back went to ground in the box, and found himself booked for his slightly over-zealous and threatening protests. Geiger soon decided that when in doubt, brandishing the yellow card was the best option. Carlos Bacca came on and clattered into the back of Stones, receiving a yellow card as a result. Stones wasn’t best pleased, and he rejected Bacca’s apologetic handshake. Bacca just looked slightly sad. Jesse Lingard clipped Carlos Sánchez’s heels rather unnecessarily. He too received a complementary caution. It was beginning to seem like it would take a miracle for both sides to finish the game with their full complement of players.

Bacca was entrusted with taking the crucial fifth penalty for Colombia. The shootout had reached the point where the slightest slip, or one moment of brilliance from either keeper, would almost certainly decide the game. All Bacca had to do was score. He couldn’t. Pickford flung himself the right way, and almost flung himself too far. The ball was above him, but he raised his left arm, batted the ball away and left England on the verge of the unthinkable: a win in the knockout stage on penalties. Could it really happen? Eric Dier stepped up to take the kick that could seal it.

A rare moment of footballing action saw Lingard attempt to find Kane in the centre after slipping into the box with a nice run. It was blocked, and the resultant corner saw Maguire head the ball onto the roof of the net. Then Kyle Walker gave Colombia their best chance of the game. The English centre-back was dispossessed in a very dangerous area and England’s defence was outnumbered. Cuadrado missed the target. Suddenly, with the game on the line, Colombia seemed to decide that fighting the English wasn’t really the answer, and seemingly realised that Cuadrado’s missed chance, and Quintero’s pair of long shots, was the sum total of their attacking efforts. They needed to do better, and they lifted.

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Carlos Bacca (right) is distraught after having his penalty saved by Jordan Pickford. Pickford’s stop allowed England to win the match on penalties.

Out of nowhere, Pickford was required to make a stunning save to deal with Uribe’s ridiculously ambitious attempt from a very long way out. He managed to tip the ball away for a corner, one of Colombia’s first of the night. The clock had passed 90 minutes, and the match was into added time. The corner was Colombia’s last throw of the dice. It was swung in, and Mina rose to meet it. Mina had scored from corners in Colombia’s previous two matches, and now he found space against Maguire in the box. He headed it into the ground, hard, and it bounced towards goal. Trippier was too short to get his head to the bouncing ball and keep it from crossing the goal line. Pickford was too far away to make a last-ditch save. The game was going to extra time, and penalties were on the agenda.

There were a few chances in extra time, but neither side was able to break the deadlock. The game was to be decided on penalty kicks. This English side had been hailed as the new generation of stars who could make their own history. Now, that reputation was at a crossroads. England could overcome the scars of the past, and continue to forge ahead into the quarter-finals and, quite possibly, beyond. Alternatively, they could lose. It was hard to know what a loss would do. Would it prove that this English side, for all the hype surrounding the fresh and exciting squad, couldn’t overcome the historical burdens carried into every tournament? Would it suggest that England’s supposed renaissance under Gareth Southgate was just a false dawn, driven by the media excitement accompanying their success? It wasn’t clear.

Thankfully for England, those questions didn’t need to be asked. Dier was calm as he slotted his penalty into the bottom corner, and England celebrated madly as they made their way into the quarter-finals. It was fitting that Southgate, on the losing side in the shootouts of 96 and 98, was the man in charge of the team as they finally overcame their demons. Maybe England are a newly resurgent force, although the jury could still be out. After all, their next game is against Sweden, and they have a horrible record against the Swedes. It seems the perfect opportunity to create some new history.

Moscow – Otkritie Arena
Colombia 1 (Mina 90+3)
England 1 (Kane 57 pen) (a.e.t, England won 4-3 on penalties)
Referee: Mark Geiger (USA)
Colombia (4-3-2-1): Ospina – Arias (Zapata 116), Mina, D Sánchez, Mojica; Barrios, C Sánchez (Uribe 79), Lerma (Bacca 61); Cuadrado, Quintero (Muriel 88); Falcao.
England (3-5-2):
Pickford – Walker (Rashford 113), Stones, Maguire; Trippier, Alli (Dier 81), Henderson, Lingard, Young (Rose 102); Sterling (Vardy 88), Kane.

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England’s players pile on top of Jordan Pickford after their penalty shootout victory. After losing six of their seven previous penalty shootouts at major tournaments, including three World Cup shootouts, the victory was a huge weight off England’s shoulders.

Top 5
1. Kieran Trippier (England)
Trippier has been brilliant all tournament, and he delivered another excellent performance to send England through to the last eight. He worked hard going forward and tracking back, and his crosses from the right wing were very dangerous. His set piece delivery was on song once again, and it caused plenty of problems.
2. Harry Kane (England)
Kane scored England’s only goal, and his sixth of the tournament, from the penalty spot, and his impact stretched beyond that one moment. He made plenty of dangerous runs, and fought through a number of fouls as he desperately attempted to drive England forward. He appears to be England’s greatest hope of an even deeper run into the tournament.
3. Johan Mojica (Colombia)
Mojica was the only Colombian who consistently threatened the English as he used his pace and crossing ability to good effect. He had little support on the left and was often forced to go it alone, but he always worked hard and he very nearly breached the English defence on a few occasions.
4. Jesse Lingard (England)
Lingard was his usual energetic self, making penetrating runs in midfield and establishing himself as England’s main second half threat with his work on the counter-attack. He came close to scoring or assisting an English goal on a few occasions, and put Colombia under the pump.
5. Juan Cuadrado (Colombia)
Cuadrado worked hard to get into some decent attacking positions, and he made some decent forays forward. He collected the assist for Colombia’s late equaliser, and he looked more likely than most of his teammates to make something happen.

Scintillating Colombia demolish dispirited Poland

Robert Lewandowski collected the ball in space just outside the area, and unleashed a shot with his right foot. Unlike most of his efforts in the previous 88 minutes, this was perfect. Poland’s star striker sent the ball fizzing towards goal, with only an injured David Ospina standing in his way. A goal wouldn’t win Poland the match, or even save them from the recriminations sure to follow after a meek surrender to a very dangerous Colombian team. It would, however, give them, and Lewandowski, something to take from a thoroughly disheartening performance. Ospina leapt to make the save, defying his sore leg to keep Poland’s captain at bay, the score remained at 3-0, and Poland didn’t even get their consolation goal. It was just one of those days.

A draw between Senegal and Japan meant the loser of this clash would be eliminated, and both sides came out determined to come away with the three points. The result was plenty of physical play and a steady procession of injury breaks in the first 10 minutes, with Johan Mojica, Michał Pazdan, Yerry Mina and Ospina going down with various ailments. The constant interruptions meant neither side was able to get much continuous attacking play going, and there were few clear opportunities in the game’s early stages. Colombia began to build into play a bit better as the game progressed, getting their attacking players involved more regularly. Juan Cuadrado looked particularly dangerous, showing his skills when he beat Maciej Rybus and Grzegorz Krychowiak to storm into the box. He couldn’t quite turn it into something more. The threat was there, however, and shortly afterwards they scored with the only shot on target of the match.

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Robert Lewandowski (in white) attempts to beat a swarm of Colombian defenders. Lewandowski had little impact on the match, with Colombia putting plenty of pressure on him every time he received the ball.

The goal came from a brilliant combination between Colombia’s talented triumvirate of playmakers, whose clever corner routine caught the Polish defence out. Cuadrado won the corner, finding space on the right, crossing the ball into an opponent and watching as it rolled over the line. James Rodríguez, back in the starting line-up after recovering from injury, took the corner and passed to Cuadrado, who found Juan Fernando Quintero in space outside the box. Quintero shaped to shoot from range, the Polish defence took the bait and he rolled a look-away pass to James, now completely unoccupied. James’ first-time cross was perfect, landing on the head of Mina just inside the six-yard-box. It was a perfectly timed and executed move, and it was impossible for the centre-back to miss from such close range.

Poland needed to score in the second half, but nothing was working for them. Whenever they got the ball, Colombia swarmed them, depriving them of the time they needed to make things happen. Lewandowski had been shut down all game, and it didn’t get any better as Colombia denied him service with their excellent pressing game. Poland’s most dangerous moments came on the few occasions where Colombia conceded a throw-in in their defensive third and Łukasz Piszczek displayed impressive range on his heaves into the area. As impressive as Piszczek’s throws were, they ultimately came to nothing and the fact that they were Poland’s best chance of scoring was an indictment on their attacking players. Then Colombia scored twice in quick succession, and put the game to bed.

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Radamel Falcao celebrates after scoring Colombia’s second goal. The goal was 32-year-old Falcao’s first at a World Cup, after the Colombian captain missed the 2014 edition with a knee injury.

The second goal came on the break, with Quintero finding the ball in space and threading a perfect ball through the Polish defence. Radamel Falcao got on the end of it, collecting the ball past the defence with just Wojciech Szczęsny to beat. He did it comfortably, rolling it past the helpless goalkeeper into the bottom corner. Falcao’s long-awaited first World Cup goal (he missed the last tournament with injury) all but sealed the win for Colombia, and it triggered raucous celebrations within the large Colombian sections of the crowd. Then they got the third to leave Poland with no chance of recovery. It came on the break, with Cuadrado making a dangerous run through the centre and latching onto a long ball from James. The Polish defence gave chase, but they were never going to catch him, and Szczęsny couldn’t do a thing as Cuadrado slotted the ball coolly into the bottom corner.

Poland had most of the attacking play in the meaningless final stages of a game that had already been decided, but there was a disheartened look about their play and they never seriously looked like reducing the deficit. Their campaign started full of excitement, with a consistent core of quality players. With one game to spare, they’re already eliminated and now face a struggle to salvage something from the smouldering wreck that was their World Cup aspirations. For Colombia, the World Cup dream is alive and kicking, and a fascinating match-up with Senegal awaits. All their stars were firing, and their clinical demolition of the Polish should stand them in good stead for the rest of the tournament.

Kazan – Kazan Arena
Poland 0
Colombia 3 (Mina 40, Falcao 70, Cuadrado 75)
Referee: César Ramos (Mex)
Poland (3-4-3): Szczęsny – Piszczek, Bednarek, Pazdan (Glik 80); Bereszyński (Teodorczyk 72), Krychowiak, Góralski, Rybus; Zieliński, Lewandowski, Kownacki (Grosicki 57).
Colombia (4-2-3-1): Ospina – Arias, D Sánchez, Mina, Mojica; Aguilar (Uribe 32), Barrios; Cuadrado, Quintero (Lerma 73), Rodríguez; Falcao (Bacca 78).

Top 5
1. Juan Cuadrado (Colombia)
Cuadrado was in brilliant touch, making raids down the right-wing and giving Poland plenty of nervous moments when he got free on the break. He found a goal late when he received the ball in behind the defence, and his pace, skill and vision made him a very potent weapon for Colombia.
2. Juan Fernando Quintero (Colombia)
Quintero played plenty of beautiful passes in behind the Polish defence, and he managed to slip the ball through their back three with almost contemptuous ease. His look-away pass to James caught the Polish defence off guard, and apart from being a stunning moment of skill it also played a key role in the first goal. He seems to have come to the World Cup in very ominous form.
3. Radamel Falcao (Colombia)
Falcao had to wait a long time for his World Cup debut, and after the pain of missing out four years ago he finally managed his first World Cup goal with a classy one-on-one finish. He battled hard in the air all day, and combined well with the creative trio of James, Cuadrado and Quintero to make the Colombian attack tick.
4. James Rodríguez (Colombia)
James wasn’t necessarily at his absolute best, but he still managed to find two assists with some nice passes. His combination with Quintero and Cuadrado was very dangerous, and his work drifting across the field caused plenty of issues for the Colombians. If he hits his best form Colombia will be a dangerous opponent.
5. Jan Bednarek (Poland)
Bednarek had a tough job at the heart of the Polish defence, but he made some good challenges and looked more assured than many of his teammates. At the age of just 22, Bednarek could be an excellent prospect and he could be one of the few positives Poland take from an otherwise disastrous campaign.