Gareth Southgate told England’s players to capitalise on this chance to live out their World Cup dreams, although the manager is under no illusions about what a “hugely difficult” quarter-final awaits against Sweden.
Tuesday’s last-16 clash against Colombia was dogged by adversity and controversy, but the Three Lions emerged victorious in a penalty shootout for just the second time after drawing 1-1 after extra-time.
Jordan Henderson failed from the spot but Jordan Pickford denied Carlos Bacca after Mateus Uribe hit the bar, allowing Eric Dier to seal a 4-3 shootout win and mouth-watering quarter-final against Sweden in Samara this Saturday.
“We’ve talked a lot to this team about making their own history, and I feel they’ve really bought into everything we’ve tried to do with them,” Southgate said, having seen Harry Kane’s second-half penalty cancelled out by Yerry Mina in stoppage time.
“The composure they showed in their play for the first 85 to 88 minutes in a big match, under pressure, I thought was really impressive.
This photo pretty much sums Gareth Southgate up. Great pic. pic.twitter.com/DSA24Vu06L— Julian Bennetts (@julian_bennetts) July 3, 2018
“I think for them, definitely a big moment. We want to capitalise on it now.
“I’m already thinking about the next game.
“I’d have liked a week to enjoy this one but haven’t got that because Sweden are a team I respect hugely.
“We’ve not got a good record against them, I think we’ve always underestimated them.
“They have good plans, they have a clear way of playing – and it’s bloody difficult to play against.
“They are greater than the sum of their parts more often than not, so that is a hugely difficult game for us.
“Because at the moment we’re high as a kite and hoping to recover and we’ve got to get back to Repino at six in the morning, but what a great game for us to be in.”
Recovery could be interesting given Southgate said England’s dressing room looked “like a scene from M*A*S*H*” after the 120 minutes in Moscow.
Issues other than cramp need to be assessed and it will take 36 hours after the game to get a fuller picture about the problems sustained on a night when the Three Lions showed their mettle.
Of all the England players, Gareth Southgate’s son wears a Harry Maguire shirt.— James Sharpe (@TheSharpeEnd) July 3, 2018
Man knows class when he sees it. pic.twitter.com/Nwz11jMfol
Colombia fans made it feel “like an away fixture” but their players’ roughhousing was met by a more streetwise response than generations gone by, even after seeing Wilmar Barrios avoid a red card for headbutting Henderson.
“Maybe we’re getting a bit smarter,” Southgate said.
“Maybe we’re now playing some of our game by the rules the rest of the world are playing.
“But I think we also kept our dignity, kept our sportsmanship, and if we were down it was because we were fouled.”
Southgate felt like there was one England fan to every five Colombia supporters at the Spartak Stadium, but the feel-good factor coupled with lessening concerns about Russia could now see fans head east.
“We have fantastic supporters who’ve had to stand with us for decades of disappointment,” the England boss said.
“I’m extremely proud that our team have made everybody in England very happy tonight and for the next few days, so that’s a really special moment for our country.
“I think we’ll get quite a few looking to travel for the quarter-final, although that’s difficult to get to logistically.”
Samara could be worth the journey, though, given the way England’s players have reacted to pressure so far.
Southgate comes out to conduct the fans! pic.twitter.com/DmNTLSMCaH— Andy Lines (@andylines) July 3, 2018
Everton goalkeeper Pickford came under scrutiny following the loss to Belgium, but saved a key penalty having produced a world-class one-handed stop late in the game.
“It was a top-class save – surprised he could reach it given his height,” Southgate said with a laugh, referring to Belgium shot-stopper Thibaut Courtois’ comments about his height.
“His athleticism around the goal is excellent and, again, he executed the plan in the penalty shootout.
“We’d studied all of their penalty takers – and great credit to the collective of staff and to him for taking on board that information and really preparing in the right way.
“You don’t always get what you deserve in life, but I think tonight we did.”
In a stunning development to Nigeria’s World Cup campaign it has been revealed that the Super Eagles captain John Obi Mikel’s father Michael was kidnapped shortly before their final game against Argentina.
Mikel has admitted he was aware of his father being kidnapped before the match but insisted on leading his country in the crucial group decider where a win for Nigeria would have seen them reach the knockout stages. In the end they were beaten 2-1 by La Albiceleste.
“I was confused. I did not know what to do, but in the end I knew that I could not let 180 million Nigerians down,” Mikel told ESPN.
“I had to shut it out of my head and go and represent my country first. I was told that they would shoot my dad instantly if I reported to the authorities or told anybody.
“And I did not want to discuss it with the coach because I did not want my issue to become a distraction to the coach or the rest of the team on the day of such an important game. So as much as I wanted to discuss it with the coach, I could not do it.”
2005: Mikel Obi chose Chelsea over Man Utd to house 3 other Nigerian players Chelsea had signed that same year.— Omoniyi Israel (@omoissy) July 3, 2018
2016: Mikel pays $4,000 to free Nigeria team over unpaid hotel bills.
2018: Mikel leads the team against Argentina despite father's abduction.
WE STAN A LEGEND! pic.twitter.com/ug2EG1Uug3
The good news is Mikel Snr has now been freed.
“Michael Obi, the father of the (Super) Eagles captain, has regained his freedom,” a spokesman for Enugu state police in southeast Nigeria, Ebere Amaraizu, said late Monday.
Amaraizu said the senior Obi’s captors did not hurt him after seizing him at gunpoint last Thursday evening in Enugu, but they forced him to walk for about five kilometres (three miles) barefoot in heavy rain.
He said the Eagles skipper paid a ransom of 10 million naira (about US$28,000) to obtain the release of his father, who is in his sixties. No arrest has been made but police are on the trail of the abductors, he said.
Michael Obi has been kidnapped once before, in the central city of Jos in 2011.
Kidnapping of prominent and rich people and their families is common in southern Nigeria. The victims are usually released unhurt after a ransom is paid.
The former Chelsea star has represented his country at the last two World Cups and has won 85 caps in total, scoring six goals.
Gareth Southgate‘s men might have to go all the way in Tuesday’s tough-looking last-16 clash with Colombia, putting their vulnerability from 12 yards in the spotlight.
England have lost six of their seven major tournament shootouts, with Young guilty of failing in the country’s last dalliance with spot-kicks at Euro 2012.
The Manchester United man struck the bar in the agonising 4-2 quarter-final penalty defeat to Italy, but the now 32-year-old is ready to make amends in Moscow.
“Of course I’ll put my name forward,” full-back Young said.
“I have got the confidence in my own ability to step up and take one, so if it goes to that stage then I’ll definitely be one to put my hand up and want to take one.
“Obviously we’ve worked and practised them, and I have got confidence in my own ability to be able to score one.”
Southgate knows all too well about the Three Lions’ penalty problems, having missed a crucial attempt in the Euro 96 semi-final loss to Germany.
England have been practising, studying and developing strategies for penalty shootouts since March and their manager would have no problem picking Young if it came to it.
“He’s a player, as we’ve seen, with outstanding set-play delivery and technique,” Southgate said.
“Like all the players, we’ve been through all the various drills to prepare.
“Once we get to that point, we know of our sort of ranking of players and what we’ve seen, not just with us but over the years in players who have taken more in certain matches than others.
“We’re prepared but there’s a lot of football before that point.
“Our primary focus is preparing for what happens during the flow of the game but should it come to that stage we’re ready.”