From “f*** off Thibaut” to “f*** sake Tripps” in the space of about a minute. His acrobatic stoppage-time save from Mateus Uribe was made all the more wonderful by the fact he had rarely been called into action for the previous hour and a half. But he could do little about Yerry Mina’s subsequent header.
Then the penalties came. And we were reminded that no England goalkeeper has saved an effort in a shoot-out since David Seaman in 1998. And we looked at Jordan Pickford’s fingertips barely touch the crossbar as he tried to change history. Even Courtois would admit the boy has bloody strong wrists. Get the absolute f*** in. The swearing ends now. Sorry.
As has become customary, his delivery was exceptional. He created chances for Raheem Sterling from a free-kick, and for Harry Kane and Dele Alli from open play. But then his moment came, and millions around the country were cursing his inability to keep a fabulous header from crossing the line. What’s the point in having someone on the post if they’re going to do *that*?
Offered the chance to atone half an hour later, he took it with both hands. A fine penalty to eradicate those brief memories, and keep his memorable and unexpected journey on course. He has been one of England’s three best players throughout.
The trend of having a game of two halves continues – and not just in the literal sense. He made two vital interceptions as the deepest defender when Colombia looked to break from corners, with his pace proving invaluable. But then his huge mistake when complacent in possession let Colombia in for their first real chance of the game, and helped turned the tide in their favour. The brilliance of a world-class player; the difficulties of one playing out of position.
Everyone thought Radamel Falcao would get the better of him, that the Premier League reject would embarrass one of the division’s most expensive centre-halves ever on the world stage. Stones laughs in your face; the Colombian only ever ventured out of his pocket to admonish the referee. His awareness was impeccable, his passing imperious and his defending impenetrable. He made ten clearances; his teammates made 12 combined. What a time to dispel all those doubts.
The boy from the Steel City done good. On such a big occasion he was completely unfazed, keeping his position well when necessary but breaking out of defence with some of his trademark runs when the situation required. Lost a few Yorkshireman points with both his overt calls for VAR when Henderson was headbutted, and then with a dive that he immediately repented for. Many of his teammates looked a little shaken when Colombia started to grow into the game late on, but the man with nine international caps was unshaken. I actually love him more than most of my family members. And by ‘most’ I mean ‘all’. And by ‘love’ I mean ‘keep a shrine dedicated to’.
One of few England players capable of matching such snide, underhand tactics and getting away with it. That is arguably what we needed. Young was perhaps fortunate to escape punishment for going over the top of the ball in a 50-50 with Barrios, but knew when to engage and when not to. Tested David Ospina with an early free-kick, and provided a few decent deliveries from set-pieces. He still seems suspect defensively, and is surely only warming the spot for a fit Danny Rose.
That he missed his penalty was devastating, such was the understated excellence of the performance that came before. He was a quiet but effective screen to the defence, using the ball wisely when called upon. Colombia’s insistence on overloading the wide positions meant he was sometimes isolated centrally, and the fact that he had just one touch more than Pickford exemplifies that. He would have been scapegoated had England lost the shootout, but he absolutely, irrefutably did not deserve that on the basis of his crucial 120 minutes.
In a system that suits him perfectly, he was one of the better players. His movement was, as ever, one of England’s most potent weapons, creating the first-half half-chance that Kane had from Trippier’s cross. He could not quite adjust himself when the ball fell loose in the Colombia area, and could only muster a volley that flew well over. He also picked up an unnecessary booking for kicking out at Carlos Sanchez after being dispossessed, this at a time when England were in danger of falling into their trap. He ran bloody loads. I bet he ran the bloody mostest, in fact.
There might have been a fear previously that Alli would have been the one to react to Colombia’s particular brand of sh*thousery, but it seems the claims of a new-found maturity from him, Gareth Southgate and Mauricio Pochettino are true. It is rare to see Alli so quietly effective, as his performances tend to be anonymous but littered with spectacular moments. This was a happy middle ground, combining well with Sterling and Lingard without ever really wasting the ball. He still looks nowhere near 100%, mind, and should have come off much earlier.
It’s just not quite there. He was impressive in the opening half an hour, finding some great pockets of space and stretching the Colombia defence with his movement. That was Sterling playing his natural game. But when he started trying to force it a little too much before half-time he became eminently more predictable and easier to thwart. He was better in the second half, if not quite a constant threat. Having said that, no player had more than his three shots. That none were on target tells its own story. England did lose their way going forward when he was removed, which might simply have been a coincidence.
Absolutely brilliant. Absolutely sodding brilliant. He won the penalty, waited for the penalty and converted the penalty with all the cool and calm of a man obsessed only with scoring more goals than anyone else. He’s really quite good at that, to be fair.
He was also magnificent at using his strength to win free-kicks; he was fouled nine times before a niggling injury slowed him down to walking pace. But even then he displayed his enviable passing range from deep, almost finding Jamie Vardy on a couple of occasions.
Kane has become the obvious and understandable poster boy for this campaign. It hardly felt possible, but the responsibility seems to have taken him to yet another level.
ERIC DIER (on for Alli, 80)
If the idea was to ‘see the game out’, it backfired. If the idea was to introduce another defensive-minded player, it hardly worked. If the idea was to gain more control in midfield, it almost cost England their place in Russia. When he missed a free header from a corner deep into the second half of extra-time, the effigies were being constructed and the newspaper front pages prepared. Then he carried the entire weight of a nation, trudged up to the penalty spot with the cumbersome burden of history pressing squarely on his shoulders, and duly leathered it into the back of David Ospina’s net.
JAMIE VARDY (on for Sterling, 88)
It was weird that he didn’t take a penalty. It was weird that his pace and particular brand of physicality was ruthlessly nullified by a knackered and seemingly injured Mina. He was a willing runner into the channels and a valuable outlet, and it would be uncharitable to be so critical of a squad player. Plus, we just won a penalty shootout.
DANNY ROSE (on for Young, 102)
Ashley Young had better fear for his place. As solid as the Manchester United left-back was, Rose changed the course of the game. He gave England a fresh out-ball, helping to wrestle back the impetus when all looked lost. A phenomenal cross in the second half of extra-time rolled agonisingly wide, but he can live safe in the knowledge that he maximised his 18 minutes to great effect.
MARCUS RASHFORD (on for Walker, 113)
He scored a penalty – having been brought on for precisely that reason, thus increasing the pressure – so is partially responsible for chaperoning football to its destination.