20 years of tension disappeared in a split second with a penalty shoot-out victory over Colombia, now it’s another ghost standing in England’s path
It was oh so familiar for England supporters. The Three Lions in a World Cup last 16, victory was within touching distance and in an instant, it all changed — Yerry Mina’s injury time equaliser for Colombia, a ragged extra-time period and then the dreaded penalties. This is where it always ends and despite the optimistic chorus of ‘Football’s coming home’, the 2018 World Cup would bring the inevitable feeling of disappointment.
When Jordan Henderson saw England’s third saved by David Ospina it seemed certain.
Three defeats from three World Cup shootouts and six from seven in major tournaments; no team with more than five shootouts on their record had a worse success rate than England.
But Gareth Southgate had prepared for this moment. The England manager knew all too well the pain of missing from the spot after his saved effort in the Euro ’96 semi-final and as such had his young side as ready as they could possibly be.
Jordan Pickford saved from Carlos Bacca and with that Eric Dier stepped up to send England through to the quarter-finals and with it end a curse that has hung over the national team for more than 20 years.
If you thought you had heard lots about ‘Football coming home’ before the Colombia game, winning on penalties ramped that up to eleven.
But of course it hasn’t yet come home. Football is currently still pulled over by the side of the road taking a breather.
And the next obstacle is Sweden, a nation also riding a wave of momentum after getting back to the World Cup for the first time since 2006 and reaching the last eight for the first time in 24 years.
All the talk of easier draws and avoiding teams, Gareth Southgate’s come up against a Sweden team that have nothing to lose, zero expectations and a worryingly decent record against England.
Sweden have only lost one of eight meetings between the two sides at major tournaments, the last one being an England victory at Euro 2012 but otherwise the Blågult (Blue-Yellow) have been a frustratingly awkward opponent.
Two previous World Cup meetings have both ended in draws — in 2002 and 2006, when Joe Cole scored his stunning dipping volley and no self-respecting Swede can forget Tomas Brolin’s winner at the European Championships in 1992 to knock out England.
England know all too well how difficult Sweden can be and Janne Andersson’s side are proving equally so in Russia.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored that bicycle kick when the two sides last met but since the great Ibra’s international retirement, Sweden have forged a new look team built on hard work and discipline rather than individual talents.
With no obvious weapons, Sweden battled their way to top group F and in doing so saw Germany eliminated then edged past Switzerland in the last 16 with Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka explaining: “Everything about them is difficult.”
Now another upset is being spied and at this World Cup, you couldn’t rule it out.
“Historically, England seem to have been a good fit for us. This tournament has shown again and again that there’s an upset waiting to happen,” Celtic’s Mikael Lustig said.
After waiting 12 years for a victory in a knockout game, England must avoid complacency if the dream is to continue a little longer.