Has the world gone topsy-turvy? After winning a penalty shootout for the first time since Euro 96, England may never have a better chance of winning another World Cup.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – even before England’s gripping 4-3 win on penalties over Colombia, this has been one of the most entertaining World Cups in recent memory.
Croatia arguably started the trend against Denmark when Luka Modric saw his extra-time penalty saved by Kasper Schmeichel – who was a mile off his goal-line – only for Modric to show nerves of steel to convert his spot kick during the shootout.
And England showed remarkable fortitude to shake off a stoppage-time Colombian equaliser that threatened to derail their World Cup campaign, as the scores finished locked at 1-1 after extra-time.
It’s been a tournament full of penalties, and having already conceded one against Japan, Colombian defender Carlos Sanchez made it a tournament to forget by hauling down Harry Kane inside the box.
Kane, of course, stepped up to smash home from the penalty spot – and that looked like being enough to send England through to the quarter-finals.
But no one told Yerry Mina.
Jordan Pickford’s save from Mateus Uribe’s thunderbolt was one of the saves of the tournament, however it looked like Kieran Trippier got in his way on the post when Mina’s thumping header bounced down and over Pickford’s outstretched hand deep in stoppage time.
Even then, substitute Danny Rose almost won it for England in extra-time when his angled low drive rolled agonisingly across the face of goal.
And if things had stuck to the script, we would now be talking about another penalty shootout defeat for England.
But this World Cup has been full of surprises. None more so than Pickford, who has made the number one jersey his own with some superb individual displays.
His one-handed save from Carlos Bacca was reminiscent of Mark Schwarzer’s save from Marcelo Zalayeta against Uruguay in Homebush, and Pickford could yet prove a pivotal player for England in the quarter-finals.
Has football changed since Euro 96? You bet it has.
How fitting, then, that a player who started his professional career at Portuguese giants Sporting, and who could have represented Portugal internationally, stepped up to win the game for England.
Eric Dier only moved to Portugal because his mother was working at Euro 2004, but despite having spent his formative years in Lisbon, the hulking defensive midfielder epitomises the very best of the Three Lions.
His penalty was never going to miss. They may have done it the hard way, but England are in the last eight of the World Cup.
[latest_videos_strip category=”world-cup” name=”2018 World Cup”]
So where to from here? They face Sweden next, and judging by their workmen-like 1-0 win over Switzerland in their Round of 16 encounter, the Swedes hold nothing to fear.
And then it’s potentially Croatia – provided they overcome surprise package Russia – and a reunion of sorts with Modric.
Croatia’s dynamic playmaker possesses enough talent to beat England on his own. And don’t they know it, given that Modric played more than 120 games in the English Premier League for Tottenham.
But if the complaint has been that the English Premier League is too packed with foreign talent for England’s national team to succeed – and it’s been a valid criticism in the past – then maybe Gareth Southgate’s side will be the one to change that perception.
Aside from their three goalkeepers, England’s squad is packed with players from the Premier League’s biggest clubs.
Are they getting used to that winning feeling?
England have been the punchline to so many jokes in the past that their transformation from loudmouth underachievers to plucky underdogs is never going to appeal to all.
But – whisper it quietly – could football be coming home after all? You wouldn’t put it past this crazy World Cup.