After three haunting failures, England have finally won a penalty shoot-out at the World Cup. And it happened under a coach who for 22 years has taken the blame for a previous shoot-out loss at a major tournament.
England advanced to the World Cup quarter-finals on Tuesday by beating Colombia 4-3 in a shootout following a 1-1 draw, sending Gareth Southgate running onto the pitch to celebrate the end of the national team’s years of misfortune.
“It will never be off my back, sadly. That’s something that will live with me forever,” Southgate said of his 1996 shootout failure. “But today is a special moment for this team. I hope it will give belief to generations of players that follow, because they can see what is possible in life.”
Southgate hasn’t tried to hide away from his own misfortune in the glare of the world — from ttaking part in a self-deprecating Pizza Hut advertisement at the time to talks with the England squad now under his command.
“When something goes wrong in your life,” Southgate advises, “it doesn’t finish you.” You can even end up leading the national team.
England teams have been practising penalties for years without being able to find a way of coming out on top. The nation’s record has played on players’ minds for years. Before Tuesday night in Moscow, England since 1990 had been knocked out of three World Cups on penalties and three European Championships. The only success came at the Euro ‘96 against Spain before Southgate’s miss in the semifinal against Germany.
So much of Southgate’s job has been about changing the mindset of a country that is credited with inventing soccer but has been scarred by failures on the international stage, aside from the senior team’s only title at the 1966 World Cup.
Players had been told for years that penalties were a lottery. Southgate told them it was a process they could own. “It’s not about luck,” he said ahead of the 4-3 shoot-out win over Colombia. “It’s not about chance. It’s about performing a skill under pressure. There are individual things you can work on within that.”
Today, England will play Sweden in Samara. The 1966 champions have reached the World Cup quarter-finals for the first time since the David Beckham era, when a golden generation exited in the last eight in 2002 and 2006.
“We have to see what is possible and not be hindered by history or the expectations,” Southgate said. “I think these young players are showing that.”
Eric Dier scored the decisive kick Tuesday after a scrappy game went through 30 minutes of extra time, denying Colombia a second consecutive trip to the quarter-finals.
“It was a nervous one,” Dier said. “I’ve never really been in a situation like that before.”
Harry Kane scored his tournament-leading sixth goal to give England the lead with a penalty kick in the 57th minute. Colombia scrambled for an equaliser and finally got it when Yerry Mina headed in a corner in the third minute of stoppage time.
“To get knocked down at the end like we did at the end, it’s difficult to come back from that,” Dier said. “But we were ready for that. We were calm. We stuck to our plan.”
The change is remarkable. England trailed 3-2 in the penalty shoot-out after Jordan Henderson’s shot was saved by David Ospina, but Mateus Uribe hit the bar and England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford then stopped Carlos Bacca’s kick.
“I did a whole bunch of research,” Pickford said. “Falcao is the only one who didn’t go his way.”