There are some things in football that you never think you will see in your lifetime. Whether it be extortionate transfer fees, smaller teams winning trophies or rags to riches stories, our sport is full of narrative. At the forefront of football sagas is England and penalty shoot-outs. The teasing monkey that has hung for dear life onto the backs of England players, managers and fans of past and present and plagued the nation’s memories of great international tournaments. Well on 3rd July 2018 in Moscow, England broke the taboo and won their first ever World Cup penalty shoot-out.
Written by Jack Colman (@JColman95)
As Barcelona’s Yerry Mina floated a header over the head of a hapless Kieran Trippier in the 94th minute of England’s last-16 tie against Colombia, a nation exhaled a cloud of hope. In a tense game, Harry Kane’s penalty was the fine margin that had put England into a winning position before the towering Colombian centre-back scored his third goal in as many games and took the game into extra-time and, inevitably, to penalties. The first two spot-kicks were everything that we’ve been conditioned to not expect from English penalties, as Kane and Marcus Rashford grabbed the responsibility by the scruff of the neck and buried them into the bottom left-hand corner.
Then came Jordan Henderson. The England vice-captain never looked confident walking up to the spot, and those around me watching the game were all murmuring: “He’s going to miss.”. They weren’t wrong. We’d seen a Liverpool captain have a tame penalty saved at a World Cup before, but this time it was David Ospina instead of the Portuguese nemesis Ricardo and Henderson instead of Steven Gerrard. As the ball rebounded back from Colombian palms, English faces slumped further into empty pint glasses and that sickening feeling of déjà vu started to antidote the nation’s World Cup fever.
Arise Mateus Uribe. When the America midfielder stepped forward, the goal has never looked bigger. Jordan Pickford suddenly appeared to lose inches and it seemed impossible that Uribe would fail to convert his spot-kick. All of those elements only went further to intensify the euphoria when Uribe’s penalty clipped the bar on its way over the bar. Trippier was then faced with the pressure on capitalising on Colombia’s mishap and just like Kane and Rashford the Tottenham defender brushed off the nerves and levelled the tie once more. Carlos Bacca then found the hand of Pickford and it was down to Dier to banish the curse and lock the door. The rest is, genuinely, history.
Let’s be honest, the rest of the World probably glances over to our rowdy island and mocks the jubilation over knocking home a few penalties. What do they know. Penalty shoot-outs have harassed English football forever and to finally win one at a World Cup is an iconic moment in this country’s history in the sport. As a Millennial, I personally don’t remember the victory against Spain at Euro 96 on penalties, so my only memories are that of Andrea Pirlo’s Panenka, David Beckham missing and bloody Ricardo saving without gloves and tucking one away himself. For older England fans, the list of harrowing moments goes on.
Winning one penalty shoot-out doesn’t now mean that we will win every penalty shoot-out ever, of course not. What it does mean is that ‘penalties’ loses its toxicity in the vocabulary of tournament football. The players have shown that they can do it and that they can perform under the utmost pressure, against all of the sceptics that wrote them off. Squad confidence and morale will be at an all-time high going into the quarter-finals and whatever this group of players do in the rest of the tournament, they will return home with their heads held high. Nobody’s talking about Iceland anymore and that humiliation is well and truly in the past.
That being said… England play Sweden next. The game between Sweden and Switzerland probably wouldn’t have earned any column inches in British newspapers if it had been a 5-4 thriller, but it was really awful. There was such little quality that the match winner was a pea-roller which deflected of a Swiss defender’s foot and into the corner. This Swedish team is organised and incredibly strong defensively but going forward there is very little to offer. England’s problem yesterday was converting possession into chances, which could prove problematic against Andreas Granqvist and co., but the gulf in quality is much larger than it was against Colombia. In other words, not reaching the semi-finals now would be a disappointment.
The beauty of the World Cup is the micro periods in which we get encapsulated in a state of fever. There’s three days now until England face Sweden in Samara, and that is going to be the longest three days of the year. Until 3pm Saturday, a very apt time for England to play a World Cup quarter-final, we will be faced with analysis, previews, speculation, interviews, insight, hype, risk-control and Three Lions being played at least 178 times. We, as England fans, should certainly never take a situation like this for granted and everybody should enjoy the good times whilst we have the chance; after all, England won a bloody penalty shoot-out in a World Cup. It’s time for football to start packing its bags, it may very well be coming home.