They said pigs would fly before notoriously nervous England emerged victorious from a World Cup shootout.
The Three Lions failed in three previous shootout attempts at the World Cup and were also bundled out of the Euros when Italy’s mercurial Andrea Pirlo broke the English resolve with a cheeky Panenka down the middle in 2012. All in all, shootouts at six international tournaments over the past 22 years have ended in heartbreak for England.
Well, the porkers were in flight over the Spartak Stadium as England held their nerve to beat Colombia 4-3 on penalties after the ill-tempered Round of 16 clash had ended 1-1 in normal time.
In truth, England deserved to win. They dominated exchanges in a messy encounter punctuated by reckless challenges and niggle, and a Colombian midfield sans the injured James Rodriguez could not find adequate supply lines.
READ MORE: World Cup 2018: Belgium begin to dream
A hugely contentious penalty for England followed after the goalless first-half, after Carlos Sanchez was ruled to have brought down Harry Kane in the area, despite it appearing to be a head-to-head tussle.
The Colombian players appearing to deliberately scuff up the penalty spot as they remonstrated with referee Mark Geiger, but Kane stayed calm and converted to rise to the top of the goal-scoring charts with six strikes.
The match threatened to break loose from Geiger’s grip, as Colombia went into attack mode and some meaty tackles went in from both sides. The South Americans enjoyed their best spell in the latter stages of the second-half, but even they must have been surprised when towering centre-back Yerry Mina rose above the English defenders to head home a dramatic equaliser deep into injury time. It was the Barcelona man’s third goal of the tournament.
The game proceeded through extra time without any major drama, and English fans must have been dreading the prospect of a penalty shootout, given their national side’s woeful record. And it looked like another bad day at the office for them when Colombian keeper David Ospina pulled off a world-class save to deny Jordan Henderson.
However, this youthful England side is not the Three Lions of old. The game was turned on its head when Mateus Uribe hit the crossbar with his spot-kick and Carlos Bacca’s tame effort was turned away by the impressive Jordan Pickford.
READ MORE: World Cup 2018: GOATs to the slaughter
Eric Dier was left to secure the win and confidently put the ball into the corner to spark wild celebrations.
England will now start as favourites in their quarter-final against Sweden, who had earlier managed to overcome Switzerland 1-0 despite conceding the lion’s share of possession and chances to their opponents.
Could the World Cup finally be “coming home” for the first time since 1966? Call me cynical, but I’m not delighted about the prospect of the English media trumpeting the victory for the next 50 years.