England 1-1 Colombia (4-3 pens) is part of 90min's 20 Greatest Matches of the Decade series. Follow the rest of the series over the course of the next few weeks.

​As Gareth Southgate and his 23-man England squad landed in St Petersburg ahead of their 2018 World Cup campaign, a storm was brewing back home.

On 12 June - the day the Three Lions touched down on Russian soil - rallies were being held across the UK in support of former EDL leader Tommy Robinson. Violent scenes broke out, while just 24 hours later, yet another EU Withdrawal Bill was rejected by the House of Commons. 


The country was a hotbed of outrage, angst and frustration. And at that moment, the notion of England's footballers uniting the country was laughable - they'd been a shambles at every major tournament since 2006.

Steve McClaren had masterminded the team's failure to qualify for Euro 2008. Two years on from that, Germany pummelled Fabio Capello's side in South Africa, with Roy Hodgson then being handed the role of head coach a mere 38 days before kick-off at the 2012 European Championships. 

The humiliation continued as the Three Lions finished bottom of their group at the World Cup, before outsiders Iceland stunned them in the last-16 of the Euros in France. So how on earth could this team bring a divided nation together?

Taking two wins from three Group G fixtures was a start, but supporters back home were nevertheless concerned about some of the performances as Southgate readied his recruits for a second round tie against Colombia on 3 July. 

Harry Kane

Captain Harry Kane had hit a combined five goals versus Tunisia and Panama in England's opening two matches, with the ​Tottenham talisman nearly grabbing his sixth of the tournament within the first quarter-of-an-hour at a booming Otkritie Arena.

He was found lurking at the back stick by Kieran Trippier - a breakout star of the World Cup - but could only loop his header onto the roof of David Ospina's net as the 'keeper scrambled back across his goalmouth.

That proved the only notable chance of a tense first-half; England had quality and Los Cafeteros had brawn, making for a brutal contest in Moscow. 

An animated Southgate prowled along the touchline as his men were incessantly kicked and beaten to the floor, feverishly gesturing for the referee to crack down. Instead of stamping their authority, the officials struggled to keep control of the game.

Mark Geiger,Harry Kane

However, the boss' pleas were finally answered within minutes of the restart, Mark Geiger deciding enough was enough when Carlos Sanchez - with both fists full of Kane's shirt - wrenched the opposing skipper backwards and to the turf.

More like a Greco-Roman wrestler than a footballer, it was pretty astonishing Sanchez contested the decision to award a penalty. Well, contest is an understatement - the Colombians' wild protests made the England hitman wait an age before taking his spot-kick. It mattered little.

After a four-minute delay, a nonchalant Kane dusted the grass off his red jersey, steadied himself and lifted his attempt straight down the middle to collect number six in Russia. Ospina leapt to his right and the Spurs star left the South Americans facing a conundrum.

Jose Pekerman's side had not offered a threat all evening, yet they now needed a new game-plan, one that didn't just involve hacking the Three Lions apart. Cue the introduction of forward trio Carlos Bacca, Luis Fruto and Mateus Uribe.


The latter made an instant impact, unleashing a freakish 35-yard volley that swerved towards the top corner, the fingertips of Jordan Pickford all that denied Uribe a contender for goal of the tournament.

Juan Cuadrado also threatened to strip England of their lead, yet the winger lashed wide of the upright when baring down on the ​Everton shot-stopper, having been played in following Kyle Walker's lapse of concentration.

Unfortunately for Pickford, his heroic display kept Colombia out for the entire 90 minutes, but not the three that were tacked on at the end of the match. 

For the majority of the second-half, Radamel Falcao and his teammates had been hammering on the door, with Los Cafeteros finally blowing it off its hinges through one of their behemoth centre-backs.

Yerry Mina

In the final seconds of additional time, Yerry Mina strode upfield as his side prepared for a last-gasp corner. He'd been a weapon for Pekerman in Russia and, once again, his opponents could not cope with the threat he posed.

Cuadrado curled his delivery into the area as the colossal defender bullied his way to the ball, pumping a header down into the ground. It rebounded upwards and into the net via the scalp of Trippier, who desperately tried to flick the effort over.

Waves of yellow began reverberating around the stadium, Colombian fans dancing and screaming in the stands. The Three Lions, meanwhile, had a choice: pick themselves up or face yet another early exit.

As soon as Kane kicked off, Geiger's whistle sounded, meaning Southgate would have a brief moment to address his squad, before sending them back into the heat of battle. 

Jordan Henderson,Dele Alli,Kyle Walker,Gary Cahill,Harry Kane,Jordan Pickford,Kieran Trippier,Trent Alexander-Arnold,Eric Dier

The teams may have been exhausted, yet extra-time brought no let up in intensity. Falcao couldn't find the target as he lurched to meet a cross, Danny Rose sent an arrow inches wide of the far post and the dirty tactics continued.

However, the deadlock could not be broken and that ensured England would come face to face with their old nemesis.


The Three Lions had taken part in eight different penalty-shootouts at international tournaments, winning just one of those. Worryingly, they'd never triumphed in one at a World Cup, missing exactly 50% of their spot-kicks in shootouts. 

We'd seen this all before, right? 

Everyone knew the script - England would again be the nearly men left wondering what could have been. It certainly seemed that way when Jordan Henderson could find only the gloves of Ospina, leaving the score at 3-2 in favour of Colombia.

Jordan Henderson

Southgate's boys were handed a lifeline by Uribe, who struck the underside of the bar with his attempt, helplessly watching on as the ball bounced back and over his head. Trippier levelled matters with a fearless rifle high to the keeper's right, piling the pressure on Bacca.

The Villarreal forward crumbled, with Pickford clawing away his spot-kick to leave Eric Dier the task of sealing victory. 

But Surely not? Surely England weren't going to win this round-of-16 clash on penalties?

They were. 

Dier's was far from the most convincing of shots, yet it squirmed underneath Ospina's arm, bringing an end to generations of heartbreak. At long last, the curse was lifted.

English pubs erupted, buoyant crowds flooded the streets and all that could be heard was one chant - 'it's coming home'.

Harry Kane,Kieran Trippier,John Stones

Four days later, the Three Lions met Sweden in the quarter finals of the World Cup. After goals from Harry Maguire and Dele Alli helped secure a 2-0 victory, it still appeared to be coming home.

Likewise, when Trippier whipped a delicious free-kick past Danijel Subasic within five minutes of kick-off in the semis, it was all but home. Or that's what the raucous masses back in England believed.

Gareth Southgate

Then Ivan Perisic equalised and Southgate's men began to fade. In extra-time, Mario Mandzukic ended England's journey, with Belgium subsequently taking the bronze medal in the third-place playoff.

The World Cup was won by France, but the English took pride in their performance. Pandemonium had swept their homeland and they'd brought some much-needed respite from the political chatter of the time. The fact said pandemonium was only temporary does little to tarnish an outstanding achievement.

For more from Ed Alexander, follow him on Twitter!

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