Penalty curse broken as Three Lions march on

Blocked: Jordan Pickford is the first England goalie to save a shootout spot kick for 20 years. © Getty

Is it coming home? England have reached the World Cup quarter-finals after beating Colombia in a nerve-shredding penalty shootout. A showdown with Sweden awaits, but can they go all the way?

1990, 1998, 2006: the years that England’s World Cup dreams have been destroyed by penalty-shootout defeats. But not this year — not 2018.

As Eric Dier blasted his spot kick past Colombia’s goalkeeper, England finally won their first-ever World Cup shootout and booked a place in the quarter-finals.

For all the late drama, it could have been so much simpler. Harry Kane gave England the lead with a second-half penalty, as the Three Lions battled hard against a physical Colombian side.

For 36 minutes, it looked to be enough — until Yerry Mina rose highest from a Colombia corner to nod in a last-gasp equaliser. From that point on, penalties seemed inevitable, the teams slugging out extra-time like two exhausted boxers.

As the shootout came, England fans would have been forgiven for feeling a sense of doom. England have a terrible record in penalties, losing six out of the seven shootouts they have faced in major tournaments — no international team has lost more.

But for Gareth Southgate’s young lions, history was not to repeat itself. Pickford made the crucial save; Dier did the rest, and a nation erupted in jubilation.

“We’re trying to write our own history,” said Southgate after the match. “I've talked to the players about that. They write their own stories. We don’t have to be bowed by the pressure of the past.”

But for now, the only thing on his mind is England’s next game: a quarter-final against Sweden. England are a dozen places higher in Fifa’s rankings, but have a mixed record against them.

Beyond that is a potential semi-final against either Russia or Croatia, and much is being made of the perceived easier route England have before them in the knockout games.

Indeed, the other side of the draw is stacked with football heavyweights Uruguay, France, Brazil, and Belgium — all of whom England would avoid until the final.

That, combined with a fresh-faced and exciting team, has fostered a new-found optimism among England fans.

But after 52 years of hurt, is football really coming home?

Three lions

Dare to dream, some argue. England have never had a better opportunity. Sure, we are on the favourable side of the draw, but more importantly the team is playing well. They are not shackled by history or expectation; they enjoy playing together; and they have genuinely world-class players. With the nation behind them, England will win.

Don’t be so sure, others respond. The optimism surrounding England is close to tipping into arrogance. Sweden will provide a sterner test than Colombia — and this World Cup has proved that there are no easy games. What is more, the likes of Brazil and France are still lurking around the corner. Let’s not get carried away.

You Decide

  1. Will England win the World Cup?
  2. Is football the greatest sport?


  1. After England’s penalty shootout victory, pundit Ian Wright said: “We needed that as a nation.” Do you think that sport is the strongest force for bringing a country together? Discuss in pairs or small groups. In one sentence, explain why you think sport does, or does not, bring people together.
  2. Watch the match highlights by following the link under Become An Expert. Based on the video, write a report that covers all the key moments in the game. Include as much exciting and descriptive language as you can.

Some People Say...

“Some people think football is a matter of life and death… I can assure you it is much, much more important.”

Bill Shankly

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
England will play Sweden in a World Cup quarter-final this Saturday at 3 pm. It is the first time they have reached this stage of the tournament since 2006. The last time Sweden got this far was in 1994 when they ultimately reached the semi-finals. If England win they will either play Croatia or Russia in the semi-finals. England are ranked higher than both teams.
What do we not know?
How difficult the Sweden match will be. England will be the favourites, however, this World Cup has thrown up several shock results — including South Korea’s and Mexico’s defeat of Germany, and Spain’s loss to hosts Russia.

Word Watch

Harry Kane
He is the leading goalscorer in the competition with six goals — averaging one goal every 46 minutes.
Six Colombian players received yellow cards. Wilmar Barrios was lucky not to get a red card after headbutting England’s Jordan Henderson.
The most recent was a 4-2 loss to Italy in Euro 2012.
Gareth Southgate
He missed a decisive penalty in England’s penalty shootout defeat to Germany in the semi-finals of Euro ‘96.
The two sides have played each other 24 times since 1923. England won eight, drew nine and lost seven of their matches. While they have never lost to the Swedes in a World Cup match, Sweden won their last encounter 4-2.
The average age of the squad is just 25, and they have only 449 caps between them.
52 years
England last won the World Cup in 1966.
Football really coming home
A phrase taken from the famous song Three Lions (Football’s Coming Home), by David Baddiel and Annie Skinner. It refers to England one day winning the World Cup for a second time.

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