Extra sour in the Moscow Mule, as England escape in a tawdry affair by both sides, more of an old school festival of nasty than the happy football we've witnessed in the first round. Knockouts can do this, you know.
Personally, deeply disappointed in the game from a quality standpoint. It promised high-performance football, and delivered mostly a shambles, all anxiety and bitterness, with little that I’d like to see twice. Blame can be widely shared.
1. England’s front four players, who were so tantalizing in that first 20 minutes against Tunisia, muffed their lines again and again. Sterling seems to alternate on every single possession between brilliant touches to match his quickness, and the simplest errors to nullify what he does accomplish, while Lingard continually got into some excellent spaces but exhibited a granite caress, or flopped when he might have carried on. Alli couldn’t impose himself on the game (hasn't looked himself all tourney), and Kane found himself dropping back in search of a touch. Vardy added little as a sub. Neither Henderson nor Dier were able to establish tempo in possession (Henderson at 65% completed passes, Dier botching 5 of 7). They had a few rhythmic moments but the unforced errors felt endless, especially further up the pitch. Only Trippier was consistent in providing offensive punch.
2. Columbia Inflamed: Colombia came out pretty tentatively, as if a first date for a new combination of players and strategy, based around a highly defensive 4-4-2 diamond midfield. Alan O’Brien at Tactics Truck has an excellent tactical breakdown, noting that this highly defensive structure might have worked with James but really stifled Colombia’s attack (one touch in the England box and no shots in the first half). I thought England navigated this press better than Mr. O’Brien, at least from the back. Colombia gradually found their way into the game, but they just lost their marbles on the free kick around 30 minutes, of which there was no doubt (how Lerma escaped a card was entirely unclear on the tackle from behind on Kane). Whether Barrios’ heading of Henderson was a red or not is debatable; how Geiger made the call through VAR is entirely unclear, but Colombia just seemed enraged for the next 60 minutes of play, getting particularly aggrieved at dives by Lingard and Sterling. The Lost-It-O-Meter went radioactive at halftime, with a member of the Colombian training staff, throwing a shoulder into Sterling as he went to the tunnel, and one wonders how whipped up they got at halftime.
The PK foul was near-impossible not to call as such, but they ganged around Geiger, took kicks at the penalty spot, with C. Sanchez daring him to show a second yellow for rank insubordination. I pitied Geiger, but after two good performances, he was not up to this difficult task.
From this point on, whenever they fouled (or just pushed, depending on how you see it) England were happy to lie down for a while, further winding up the men in yellow, and Colombia simply lost the concentration necessary to get back into the game. An hour later, Mina scored, and suddenly Colombia remembered that they are a great footballing nation and looked the better side for most of extra-time, though they struggled for ideas to break down England near the goal. To summarize their four matches, they went from heroic but undone (Japan), joga bonito (Poland), impotent (Senegal), and finally inflamed today. I can’t recall a more puzzling progression of games, and sad to see them end on this note, for in that second match they provided a broad sprinkling of magical touches and movement across the pitch.
3. Out of this shambles of a game emerged one brilliant second: Mateus Uribe’s half-volley was the best shot of this tournament, lightning from his back pocket just as the dirt was being tossed on the coffin. Apologies to Nacho, Pavard, Ambarat, Cheryshev, Quaresma, and Inui, all of whom took absolute sizzlers, but Uribe curled around the referee, and out of nowhere hammered it from 36 yards out, rocketing to the top-corner, and Pickford was brilliant to get it. Here’s the tactical cam view, just outrageously audacious from Uribe.
For Pickford, It was Banksy, Gordon rather than the artist known as. How Fox failed to show this again and again is a real shame; without this shot and save, no corner, no Mina-to-the-rescue, no PKs. It was sad to see him miss his PK but at least everyone knows that without him, they literally would have had no PKs. He’s at Club America in Liga MX, and rumored to be headed to Spain, and will long be remembered for this moment.
4. England’s Back Three: Along with Pickford, they were fantastic in possession for the first 70 minutes. That one harrowing Kyle Walker giveaway was almost punished dearly, but other than that, they kept the ball well, and in the first half repeatedly split the seams of Columbia’s “pressure”--it often wasn’t much--to initiate attacks. As a unit, they were very strong defensively, winning all the air balls (or doing enough on Falcao’s header to put him off), and showing speed enough to play a pretty high line, too. Walker in particular can track down just about any runner, while Stones is delivering on the potential that glittered with the Toffees. Maguire, too, has shown accuracy and also some intent carrying the ball forward when that option is required. Pickford was quick off his line when he needed to be as well. As dodgy as Belgium’s back 3 looked last night, England’s was very strong tonight, and better play from the mids and front would have made for an impressive night. But they didn’t and it wasn’t.
Trippier has proved himself--and the movement of Walker to the centerback 3--to be an excellent choice. He got the better of Mujica today, stopping all five of his dribbles, and was threatening all night (Kane and Lingard were set up well by his offerings). They are far weaker on the left, though whether Ashley Young or Danny Rose is the better choice is unclear to me. Rose wins on picture quality, certainly.
5. Mina and Davinson Sanchez: Mina scored in each game he played, notching two winners and an equalizer, and seemed near unplayable in the box.
There were no notable errors, either, by him in the defensive end in those three games, and none from regular play. Sanchez was fantastic, extremely precise in risky tackles (the sliding back heel chop on Mane still boggles the mind) and very tough in all aspects of the game. Interestingly, his club coach at Atletico National in Medellin: Juan Carlos Osario. Tottenham have themselves a centerback of enormous talent and, I suspect, will be fighting off suitors. The pair were superb during this tournament and at 22 and 23 years of age, a bedrock from which to build.
6. Adios, Senor Pekerman: My favorite coach is going out, and the twitter feed is surging with gratitude, anger, and some cute gals 45 years younger who want to give him a hug. So do I. Pekerman masterminded the great Argentinian teams of the early 2000s (first youth, then Men’s) and was the architect of their last compelling World Cup side. He’s met his maker by PKs before, including the gut-wrenching Germany 2006 defeat, maybe my saddest World Cup moment, as I’d fallen hook, line, and sinker for that team. His player selection is getting a good bit of attention on Twitter (particularly for leaving out the bright Uribe). He’s pissed at the English for how soft they went down and how little the referee seemed to care, but his team was not an appealing one tonight. Sad to see it end this way for the old man.
7. Fitness: England looked totally gassed in extra time while Colombia was still running, despite having played almost all players against Senegal while England rested; Sweden's got to be thinking that extra-time could be the right time.
8. Penalties: I don’t think I can take much more of this. I will say that Kane’s first (not in the shootout) was a toe or two away from being Akinfeev’ed, not a great shot, and Dier’s winner was poor, guessed right and completely manageable. Ospina--who had done very well to suss out Henderson’s shot and guessed correctly on all 5--would probably make that save 4 out of 5 times if the dive went the same way. He just didn’t get any strength from that hand. So, funny game that it is, Eric Dier goes down as an England hero despite playing poorly throughout his limited time in the match and with a PK that was the weakest of England's 5. I'm sure he doesn't mind it at all.
In the end, I felt somewhat diminished by the whole affair. For England, on to Sweden it is, where another formidable centerback pairing await.