England have reached the quarterfinals of the World Cup by beating Colombia. But weirdly, they won the match on penalties. Is their name on the trophy?
Slaven Bilic, who represented Croatia in a World Cup semi-final, is an excellent pundit. He has been on British television during the tournament, and has made many interesting points about the psychology of England fans and the nation’s media.
He noted how they built up Colombia’s reputation more-and-more as the game drew nearer, and he also made a relevant point about penalty shootouts.
Bilic said that in Croatia they would show footage of 1998, when they reached the last four at France ’98, in order to inspire people. Yet in England they fixate on penalty shootouts, due to their horrendous record with them. Is it any wonder the English have a complex from 12 yards?
And the current side shouldn’t carry any mental baggage at all. England’s first, and probably most infamous, penalty shootout took place in 1990. Stuart Pearce and Chris Waddle missed, and West Germany reached the World Cup final as a result. The Three Lions had only won one of their six shootouts since then too.
But never mind not playing in 1990, most of the squad weren’t even born then. Few of them would remember 1996 (another semifinal defeat), or 1998 (a World Cup second-round loss to South American opposition. Spooky). I’m a middle-aged fan; I remember them all too well, but it shouldn’t affect the team.
It’s interesting that the current England manager is one of the highest profile victims of the nation’s penalty curse. Gareth Southgate missed the decisive penalty at Euro ’96, and Germany reached the final as a result. Are you noticing a theme yet?
Southgate is the first England manager who hasn’t dismissed penalty shootouts as a lottery which you can do little about. He has had the squad practicing them since March, taking them at the end of intense training sessions when they are exhausted. You can’t replicate the pressure and the crowd noise, but you can practice until practice makes perfect.
And they almost were too. In the end, Jordan saved Jordan. Henderson missed, before Pickford became the first England goalkeeper to save a spot kick in a shootout for 20 years. He was four years old when David Seaman saved one in vain against Argentina.
The Liverpool skipper is far from universally popular with fans of his club or country. The social media knives were being sharpened as soon as he missed. Some were no doubt unleashed regardless. Thankfully for Henderson, his Merseyside mate saved him from the future ignominy of Pizza Hut commercials.
Sweden now lie in wait in the quarterfinal in Samara on Saturday. The two nations have met four times in the World Cup and World Cup qualifiers, and every time it has been a draw. England deserve credit for breaking their bad run with shootouts, but it could easily rear it’s ugly head again on Saturday.
As it stands, England haven’t achieved anything of serious note at this World Cup. So why are people driving past my house beeping their car horns as I sit typing this? Because the English view penalties as a disease, and Southgate may have unearthed the cure.
That first penalty shootout I mentioned earlier took place one day shy of 28 years prior to the match with Colombia. Have England finally slayed the demons from that fateful night in Turin? We shall see, but a nation certainly hope so.
The Three Lions may yet face Slaven Bilic’s Croatia in a World Cup semifinal. He may live to regret urging England and its people to have more confidence in themselves.