Saturday, August 15, 2020

REWIND: England finally rid themselves of penalty blues

Penalty shootouts and England are two words that, historically, have made the faces of Englishman squint with sheer desperation and misery. In 2018, all of that changed as Gareth Souuthgate’s young bucks went to Russia and defied all expectations.

England v Colombia – the scene of a miracle

England and Colombia clashed inside the Spartak Stadium, Moscow on July 3rd 2018, in a World Cup round of 16 tie. From the outset, Colombia were intent on turning this football match into an all out war.

The referee failed to get any kind of hold on the game and as such, Colombia’s players tried their very best to win dirty. Kicking our players at every turn, they showed no signs of mercy. In the end, Colombia gave away 23 fouls during the game.

Eventually, Colombia were punished in a big way for their lack of discipline. Carlos Sanchez brought Harry Kane down in the area and, as you would expect, the Spurs striker stepped up and slammed his penalty home to give England the lead.

It looked as though England would escape from this game unscathed in the 90 minutes but, things weren’t that easy. Jordan Pickford made a wonderful save from a long distance effort late on but, from the resulting corner, Colombia equalised.

Yerry Mina rose highest in the box and smashed home his header to shatter the hopes of England fans across the world. Extra-time beckoned, but Colombia had all the momentum.

Extra-time came and went with little in the way of goalscoring chances but, unfortunately for England, that meant only one thing – penalties. England hadn’t won a shootout in a tournament for 22 years, since beating Spain at Euro ’96.

It looked as though it was more of the same early on as David Ospina saved from Jordan Henderson. However, in the following penalty, Mateus Uribe smashed his effort against the crossbar, paving the way for England’s heroes to step up.

With the scores level, up stepped Carlos Bacca. The striker tried to beat Pickford to his right but the lad from Sunderland was alert to it, dived the right way and got an incredibly solid hand to a powerful effort – presenting England with a chance to win.

The man it all came down to was Tottenham midfielder Eric Dier. God only knows what was going through his head as he trudged up the box, but he was focused, and he looked confident. He put the ball down, took a run up and slammed his penalty underneath Ospina in the Colombia goal.

What happened next, both on the pitch, in the stands and in beer gardens across England, can only be described as sheer chaos. Dier ran to Pickford, the rest of the England squad somehow mustered up the energy after 120 minutes of football to sprint to the corner where to celebrate with the heroes of the hour.

What a moment it was. I’ll never forget it.

Why does it mean so much?

If you’re not from England, you may be curious as to what exactly it is that makes this moment just so special for us. Yes, it was only the round of 16. Yes, it was only Colombia. However, the moment represented so much more to us.

For three decades, England’s biggest nemesis hasn’t been Scotland, nor Germany, but penalty shootouts. Think back to all the times a penalty shootout has been our undoing.

Italia ’90, out on penalties to West Germany. Euro ’96, out on penalties to Germany. France ’98, out on penalties to Argentina. Euro ’04, out on penalties to Portugal. Germany ’06, out on penalties to Portugal AGAIN. Euro 2012, out on penalties to Italy.

So many tournaments, so much hope, so much expectation has all been shattered by our inability to perform in a penalty shootout. In 2018, as the referee blew for the end of extra-time, the whole country let out a collective sigh… “I guess that’s that then.”

Then Henderson missed early on in the shootout and, in our minds, that was it. Only, it wasn’t done. For some reason, the football gods were looking down on us this time as Colombia missed too.

As Eric Dier slammed home that winning penalty, the nation let out a noise that can only be described as a guttural shriek of sheer joy. For many, myself included, that was the first time we’d ever seen England win a shootout. It’s a feeling that compares to little else.

The nerves inside all the way through, the feeling of sheer desperation as you watch their keeper pull off a save, the feeling of utter relief each time one of your boys manages to squeeze one in – it’s totally incomparable.

After so much disappointment in that particular area, to have some success was genuinely an amazing thing for us. It provides us with the feeling that maybe, just maybe, our horrendous luck in penalty shootouts might be gone.

Hopefully the football gods will continue to treat us with mercy in any future shootouts. To be honest, if we can just win Euro 2020(21) without the need for a shootout at all, that’d be grand thanks.

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Kieran Harm
Kieran hails from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne and holds a degree in Sports Journalism from the University of Brighton. He covers a range of sports, specialising in football and NFL. Kieran is a long-suffering member of the Toon Army as well as a very proud member of Broncos Country.

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