Jordan Pickford and Eric Dier combined to end 28 years of World Cup misery on penalty kicks for England as one save and one conversion on back-to-back attempts powered the Three Lions to a contentious victory over Colombia in the round of 16 on Tuesday in Moscow.
Pickford gave England a chance to win when he got his left hand up fast enough to knock away Carlos Bacca’s attempt in the fifth round. Dier, with the weight of a nation who had witnessed three World Cup exits in this excruciating method of finding a winner on his shoulders, was the picture of calm as he ripped a shot into the lower left corner where Colombia keeper David Ospina could not get enough of his hand out to stop it.
The clinical performance in which only Jordan Henderson failed to convert vindicated England manager Gareth Southgate’s decision to have his young Three Lions embrace his side’s tortured past in penalties, something he contributed to in the 1996 European Championship semifinals at Wembley Stadium with an attempt stopped in the loss to Germany.
It was the first time in four World Cup knockout matches and second time in seven major tournaments England advanced via penalty kicks after losing to West Germany in the 1990 semifinals, Argentina in the round of 16 in 1998 and Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal in the 2006 quarterfinals.
There were continental exits in 2004 and 2012 at the hands of Portugal and Italy, respectively, though England did oust Spain in the quarters of the 1996 Euro before its elimination in similar fashion by Germany.
It also released a catharsis of celebration in the country that invented football, with fan viewings across England erupting into cheers of ecstasy that reverberated in both cities and towns.
After nearly throwing away a victory deep in second-half stoppage time when Colombia’s Yerry Mina found a last-gasp equalizer and finally exorcising its demons 12 yards at a time on football’s biggest stage, England will face Sweden on Saturday in Samara as it makes its first quarterfinal appearance since 2006.
Los Cafeteros were denied a second consecutive World Cup appearance in the round of eight as they struggled to find any sort of rhythm without playmaker James Rodriguez, who watched from the stands after failing to pass a late fitness test with a calf injury.
Colombia played a largely defensive and, at times, cynical match as it accrued six yellow cards in a match American referee Mark Geiger struggled to control throughout the first 90 minutes before fatigue and the urgency of the moment created mainly cooler heads in the extra 30.
England talisman Harry Kane, who confidently struck his side’s first penalty to keep the ghosts of the past at bay, also converted from the spot early in the second half for his tournament-leading sixth goal — three of which have come via penalties.
The first five penalties were converted before Ospina dove to his left and pushed out Henderson’s attempt around the right post. Mates Uribe, with a chance to put Colombia up 4-2 from the spot, thumped the underside of the crossbar on the right to give England a lifeline they took full advantage of as Kevin Trippier brought the Three Lions level before Pickford’s heroics against Bacca.
Los Cafeteros settled into a defensive alignment without Rodriguez, content to soak up pressure and try to use their pace to hit on the counter. Still, England was barely fazed as it racked up three corners and a threatening free kick in the first 10 minutes.
On that free kick from just outside the penalty area low on the left side, Ashley Young’s fierce right-footed drive was punched out with equal force by Ospina. Raheem Sterling was gifted a chance in the 13th minute when a Colombian back pass went awry, but his shot from just above the penalty area was blocked by Davinson Sanchez.
England narrowly missed going ahead in the 16th minute when Trippier fizzed a cross from the right deep across goal but it had too much pace for Kane as he headed over the bar from inside five yards.
Colombia finally grew into the match after the quarter-hour with its first spell of possession, with Pickford getting his first meaningful touch of the ball to intercept a long pass intended for Radamel Falcao. Los Cafeteros were trying to work forward on the right side through Juan Cuadrado, Juan Quintero and right back Santiago Arias, but the trio were unable to create much separation from England’s defenders.
Colombia’s first shot came in the 33rd minute as Falcao chested down a throw-in and laid a pass off to Quintero, who scuffed his 25-yard shot well wide of the right post.
Kane earned a free kick from 25 yards to the left of the D in the 38th minute as Jefferson Lerma cut him down from behind. As players from both sides jostled for position on the wall, Colombia defender Wilmer Barrios was lucky to escape with only a yellow card from Geiger after he head-butted Henderson underneath the Liverpool midfielder’s chin.
After all the dramatic buildup, Trippier fizzed one over the wall but wide of the left post. Kane took a speculative shot from 20 yards on the right that went well wide as the match continued to grow in chippiness as Sterling and Mina got in each other’s faces.
Pickford was finally tested in the second minute of stoppage time when he caught a short-hopped shot from Quintero 20 yards out. England quickly played out forward as Barrios had a desperate headed clearance on a cross for Young, but Jesse Lingard lashed his volley from 15 yards over the bar.
All told, there were nearly five added minutes before Geiger blew his whistle to end the first half.
Santiago Arias picked up a caution in the 52nd minute for a poor 50/50 challenge on Kane that gave England a free kick 30 yards from goal on the left. Ashley Young curled in a perfect right-footed kick, but Colombia’s Davinson Sanchez made a crucial intervention to deny Harry Maguire a clean header.
On the ensuing corner, Geiger pointed to the spot after watching Carlos Sanchez haul down Kane after the Tottenham Hotspur striker got a step on him trying to get free on the left. The Colombian players were enraged at Geiger, remonstrating for him to consult VAR as the American referee was losing control of the match.
He angrily brandished a yellow card at Henderson, who nudged Mina with the back of his head. After almost three minutes of delays, Kane lashed his penalty down the middle for his sixth goal of the tournament, matching Gary Lineker’s record for the most by any England player at a World Cup in 1986.
Colombia began to take a more direct approach as it tried to find an equalizer, introducing Bacca in the 62nd minute for Lemar. Tempers continued to flare as Falcao was booked protesting over a foul not called, and Bacca was shown a yellow card immediately thereafter for a cynical challenge on John Stones.
Los Cafeteros looked devoid of ideas until being gifted a chance in the 81st minute when Bacca took the ball off Walker and went through the middle of the pitch in a 2-on-2. He laid off the ball to his right for an on-rushing Cuadrado, but the Juventus winger went well wide with his 18-yard attempt.
England seemed to be successfully killing off the game, with Pickford comfortably saving a low 20-yard shot from Falcao on 87 minutes. But the danger started in an unlikely manner as Uribe ripped a 30-yard shot that forced the Everton No. 1 into a leaping fingertip save to knock it away from the upper right corner for Colombia’s first corner of the match on 93 minutes.
And the wait was well worth it as Mina used all of his 6-foot-5 frame to reach Cuadrado’s corner, towering over Harry Maguire and hitting a downward header from six yards that bounced into the upper left side of the net, giving Los Cafeteros a sucker punch of an equalizer that extended the match.
Fully buoyed with momentum, Colombia was the better team in the first 15-minute period. Los Cafeteros won a corner in the 101st minute when Bacca’s header was deflected over the end line. Mina couldn’t put this header on frame, though, knocking it wide of the left post from 12 yards. Colombia continued to press forward, with Falcao going wide on a header in the 104th minute off a Johan Mojica cross from the left.
The intermission lifted sagging spirits on the England side as it seized momentum back in the final 15 minutes. Danny Rose came oh-so-close to winning it in the 112th minute as Henderson played him through on the left, but his left-footed shot fizzed inches wide of the far post after beating Ospina.
Jamie Vardy ran down a long ball and sending in a hopeful cross from the right to give England a corner in the 114th minute, but Dier — completely unmarked — thumped his eight-yard header well over the bar.
Vardy had a half-chance in the 108th minute after a sloppy clearance attempt by Colombia played him into the penalty area on the right, but his shot was blocked by Barrios.
Geiger handed out eight yellow cards overall as Henderson and Jesse Lingard picked up bookings that will be expunged ahead of the match against Sweden.