Anything short if a World Cup final for England will be looked back on as an historic failure as they finally won a penalty shoot out.
World Cup 2018 Diary: England Win A Penalty Shoot-Out!
If you’ve ever seen “Monty Python & The Holy Grail”, you’ll know the Black Knight character. “None shall pass”. Chop his arms off, his legs off, he won’t be defeated, he just keeps demanding another fight. That, pretty much, is Sweden at World Cup 2018.
They got rid of the Dutch in qualification, Italy in the play-offs, then saw off the Germans in the group phase, somehow recovering from that debilitating last minute defeat to them to wipe the floor with Mexico and qualify for the last eight.
They’re not a side that sparkles, not a team that is full of goals or any great individuals not Zlatan has finished, but they just keep going and going and going. They know they have a special opportunity here in Russia and they won’t be giving it up without a fight.
The Swiss know only too well the scale of that opportunity but in the end, for all that they had more of the ball, the enormity of the chance and the consequence of defeat, seemed to overwhelm them.
The truth for all eight teams that reached the bottom half of the draw is that anything short if a World Cup final will be looked back on as an historic failure – though the four knockout games they’ve played so far suggest there’s precious little chance of any of them winning the competition.
Spain aside, these are nations not usually at the sharp end of these competitions, not in recent times anyway, and the Swiss join the Spaniards and, very nearly, the Croatians, in being beaten by that fear of failure as much as their opponents.
For Sweden, there seems to be no such diffidence. They recognise their limitations, do their best to mask them and then maximise their strengths. That means being utterly resolute and unyielding at the back, bloodyminded to the point of fetish, ferocious in contesting every tackle, every loose ball, every set piece.
They know they cannot afford to concede many goals because they are not full of them at the other end, but against the Swiss, they had the game’s one slice of luck when Forsberg’s 66th minute strike was horribly deflected beyond Swiss goalie Sommer and in.
From there, they fought for everything. This is once in a lifetime stuff, not just for the players but for the nation that hasn’t reached the final since they hosted the competition in 1958. They are not going to let that chance slip. It will have to be wrenched from them.
While the Swiss will rue the misfortune of that savage deflection, for Colombia the difference came before a ball was kicked, when Rodriguez was ruled out of the game through injury. They are not a one man team by any means but losing such a crucial creative player when the teams are so closely matched, the margins so fine as these, that is massively significant.
Significant, but not an excuse for trying to turn the game into a brawl with some over the top histrionics and challenges that stretched the referee’s patience throughout.
They ultimately got what they were asking for when, just before the hour, Kane was hauled to the ground about six inches in front of the ref and the inevitable penalty kick followed, with the inevitable result that Kane scored again, the first man to score in six successive internationals since Tommy Lawton in 1939.
Colombia got more fractious, England held their discipline in the face of it, but slowly lost their nerve, dropping further back and failing to instead put away an opponent that was on the ropes – we’ve seen plenty of times in this World Cup that that strategy doesn’t have any legs.
Penalty Win For England..At Last
So it was that Colombia dominated the last 10 minutes against a docile England and, after a fabulous save by Pickford two minutes into injury time, from the resulting corner, Mina got a free header, smacked it into the ground and up, Trippier trying to head it off the line but succeeding only in putting it high into the net.
Colombia were in the ascendancy thereafter until a late England rally, before we reached the penalty denouement which, for all the preparation that sides do for them, still remains little more than a lottery. For the first time ever in a World Cup, England got the winning ticket and advance to a quarter-final with Sweden. On the basis of today’s football, it’s unlikely to be a cracker.