Before becoming a Sports Journalist for Free Super Tips, Aaron spent three years studying Sports Journalism at the University of Sunderland while taking in the Black Cats' 'glory years' under Martin O'Neill. Now back in Northern Ireland he turns niche stats into predictions for FST, while he's one of the few people on this island who is equally comfortable at Windsor Park and the Aviva.
England broke their years of penalty shoot-out hurt with a victory over Colombia in the last 16 of the World Cup. Eric Dier struck the vital spot-kick to win the shoot-out 4-3, after they dominated a 1-1 draw with Colombia. The Three Lions progressed to reach the quarter-finals, with Sweden in wait for Gareth Southgate and his side.
Jordan Pickford’s vital save set up Dier to strike the winning penalty, as England fought back from 3-2 down to win on penalties for the first time at a World Cup. A vital victory changed the mentality around this England team, but their overall performance deserved credit too. Here we’re looking back over a dramatic night of football, to see England’s strengths and weaknesses ahead of their last eight clash with Sweden.
Also see: Is Football Really Coming Home?
Three Lions Forget Penalty Demons
It was six years since England’s last penalty shoot-out, when Andrea Pirlo’s Panenka helped Italy in to the last four of Euro 2012. However, that felt like a very different game. England were hanging on for long periods against the Italians, who were superior in almost every way. This time around, it was a very different story. The Three Lions felt hard done by with a draw, after being the better side for the majority of this last 16 tie.
This time, England were even able to come back from behind in the shoot-out. Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford scored from the spot, while Kieran Trippier and Dier scored after Jordan Henderson’s slip up. It was redemption for Gareth Southgate, who famously missed a penalty during the semi-final of Euro 1996. He was also part of the side when England last won on penalties; the quarter-final win over Spain in 96.
With their usual Achilles heel gone, England head in to the last eight full of hope and expectation. Are they strong enough to push for a spot in the World Cup final?
Kane Clear in Golden Boot Race
Harry Kane’s sixth goal of the tournament was enough to put England in to the last eight, and it boosted his hopes of individual silverware. He’s now two goals clear at the top of the Golden Boot charts, with six strikes in three matches. With a favourable run in their half of the draw, this is unlikely to be Kane’s last strike for the Three Lions this summer.
Everything falls in to the lap of the Tottenham man, who has scored in every match he’s played as England captain. Having a quality, in-form forward is huge for England, as that could be enough to fire them to the final. With cagey knockout matches to come, England’s rivals would love to have Kane leading the line.
Inexperience Ruined Bright Start
England started the game well, looking noticeably more organised than any Three Lions outfit in 20 years. Gareth Southgate has clearly put the hours in on this 3-5-2 formation, and it should stand England in good stead moving forward. They controlled the tempo of the opening stages. Players traded positions, and the forwards moved around with real intelligence. It was everything Sven Goran Eriksson’s England weren’t.
However, just like the Nigeria friendly last month, England failed to adapt in the second half. Their opponents worked out a way to disrupt England, and the Three Lions fell for it. As the Colombians broke up the game with a series of fouls, England responded by giving them the physical game that the South Americans were desperate for. There was next to no leadership on the pitch, as the team collectively lost their heads. That came to a peak when Yerry Mina headed in from the corner, with the 11 in red shirts looking incredibly panicked by the idea of a cross.
This is where England miss the older generation. A John Terry or Steven Gerrard would have called on the bunch to relax a little. Keep passing, keep moving, ignore the ill-discipline of the Colombians. In the end, England were dragged in to it, a clear sign of naivety from this young England side. By the time they got the game under control again, almost an hour of the game had come and gone, as the game was ticking towards penalties.
England Maintain Set Piece Threat
One area where England have been clearly well coached is from set pieces, especially corners. Every time the ball is placed in that tiny quarter circle, it’s like England are completely different beast. The opposition defenders look like they’re facing three live lions, and sprint for cover. There was worry throughout the Colombian defence from England’s corners, and that was clear from early in the first half.
England’s second half penalty came from a foul at a corner, as Kane was man-handled in the box. They maintained a threat from set-plays into the last moments of extra-time, as corners, free-kicks and even throw-ins flooded the Colombian box. While they didn’t score from a set-piece, England clearly have a weapon there that will serve them going forward in this competition.
Sweden Lie in Wait
England’s focus turns to the Sweden game, their first World Cup quarter-final in 12 years. Their last – a penalty shoot-out defeat to Portugal – was another were they famously lost control. Wayne Rooney showed that in his red card, after being successfully wound up by the Portuguese. That’s where the mental factor will be huge, and a penalty shoot-out win could toughen up Southgate’s side.
The draw has been kind to England, and meeting Sweden next is a perfect chance to make a first World Cup semi-final in 28 years. If England can focus on the positives from this display, and try to be a little tougher in the crucial moments of the next match, then they could be set for an incredible run in Russia. After essentially beating Colombia twice, England are in great shape ahead of Saturday’s clash with Sweden in Samara this Saturday.
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