Moscow – England vs Colombia

By the time this fixture had come around, we had endured a few days without football. This gave us all time to speculate, to dream, to review the great moments that had passed. By now we were hearing of how it was turning into a wonderful summer back home. The vibe was positive, everyone was happy, man, even the sun was supporting England as we had the best weather for many a year! Excitement was building, we were in the easier half of the draw as hoped with teams such as Switzerland and Russia being possible opponents in our path to glory. This meant only one thing:

IT’S COMING HOME!!!

Game day came around again, and this time I was meeting a friend of a friend from London. By now I was pretty much a local, so I organised the meeting points and off we went. I met Tim in an Irish pub, of course – where else would be worthy on a match day? We instantly got on telling stories, theirs of the trials of organising the trip and the expense paid, mine of my previous travails and adventures. The beers were flowing and it was time to go. Down onto the glorious, museum-like platforms where it didn’t take long for the fans to start emerging. As we changed trains, the sea of yellow increased and the chants began.

To the tune of ‘Seven Nation Army’, the Colombians lead with ‘Donde estan los Ingleeeesas?’ – highlighting a lack of numbers in our support which had no doubt been widely publicised.  My retort was ‘Donde esta Rodriiiiiguez?’ in reference to their star player who thankfully for us would sit out the game through injury. A talisman and superstar like him is such a crucial miss, as he can win a game on his own while the other 10 graft and frustrate the opposition, much like a Gareth Bale or Hristo Stoichkov.

Approaching the stadium, the gulf in support was becoming more and more evident, to the point you would shout to England fans if you saw them amongst the thousands of singing Colombians. Once inside, there was time for one more singing competition on the concourse before the drama started. It was a wonderful moment where a group of maybe 6 of us English fans faced up to a similar number of Colombians and sang as loud and as strong as we could, song after song, each trying to prove they loved their country more than the other. This is what it’s all about – sheer pride, togetherness and support for your country. Eventually this came to an end with polite applause and appreciation. The atmosphere was electric, and as I took to my seat behind the goal it really was confirmed that we were up against it. Good luck out there, lads.

Once the game was underway, I was praying for an early goal to settle the nerves and silence the Colombian fans. Within the first 20 minutes it was clear to see that England were the better team and had the better style, so I was feeling quietly confident. However, the Colombians were not going to make this easy.

There is a famous joke amongst Colombians that God had made their land so beautiful, so rich in every natural way, that it was unfair to the rest of the world. He had evened the score by populating it with the most evil race of men. Now, having spent a month in the country I don’t agree but you could certainly see in this game that Colombia, more than any other team I’d seen, had a nasty, ruthless streak where they would try every trick in the book to intimidate and cheat their way to victory. Never was this more evident than after Kane was fouled in the area on 55 minutes, Johan Mojica opted to sneakily scuff up the penalty spot hoping for a slip or mishit from the England star. But this is Harry Kane, and he did what Harry Kane does best, powering the ball home for a deserved lead, finally quieting the relentless Colombian fans.

The game continued in a particularly nasty vein – which wasn’t so clear from the stands at the time – until the clock was almost at 90 minutes. Uribe unleashed a powerful drive from 30 yards which from behind the net looked like going wide but Jordan Pickford pulled out a wonder save leading to a corner. Now on 93 minutes, the corner was floated to the back post where the colossus Yerry Mina rose above all in his path to break English hearts and draw the most almighty cheer from the Colombians. 35 minutes of nervous energy had filled the stadium since Kane’s goal; this was released in one moment and the electric atmosphere returned instantly.

The final whistle went soon after and for once in the tournament I was genuinely not enjoying the experience, feeling like it was about to be ‘one of those days’ that England are so famous for. An incredibly tense and edgy atmosphere, all we could do was sing and hope. To be honest I can’t recall a thing about extra-time, only the nerves and it petering out towards a stalemate.

Now to the dreaded penalties, forever our nemesis. In my lifetime I had witnessed 7 England shootouts, including my first ever memory in life when we lost to West Germany at Italia 90. Of those 7, our solitary win was Euro 96 against Spain. But this is Russia 2018, the year of last-minute winners, thrashing the minnows, losing when we want to lose…anything is possible.

What happened next is hard to put into words, so I’ll refer you to the video for a better understanding of the emotion.

A smooth start as Kane and Rashford both scored, as well as their Colombian counterparts. The drama began as Jordan Henderson had his very saveable penalty stopped by David Ospina – advantage Colombia. A horrible sinking feeling as their fans lit up the stadium once again. Next up Uribe, as his penalty struck the underside of the bar the crowd held their breath to see where it ended up. I was absolutely delirious as the ball bounced away and we were all square again. Kieron Trippier tucked our next penalty away comfortably before Carlos Bacca stepped up. As Pickford dived full stretch to the right, he threw his left arm into the air to punch away the well struck penalty.  Great celebrations as England had the advantage at the most crucial time.

All we needed now was one successful penalty. To the surprise of many, up stepped Eric Dier. But just as in France two years earlier when he whipped in that free-kick against Russia, he was the man for the big moment. He calmly dispatched it into the bottom corner beyond Ospina. A huge release of emotion followed as the remaining players ran to embrace Dier and Pickford. The English public had been waiting 22 years to see a moment like this. As I made my way around to join the England fans behind the opposite goal for some celebrations, there was a rather satisfying silence from the Colombians as they filtered away. Pandemonium in the stands, on the pitch, in pubs and bars across the whole of England. What a moment! What a way to win! This is our year!

IT’S COMING HOME!!!

In the run-up to this game, I had enjoyed one of the best days yet as myself and Glyn watched Russia beat Spain on penalties. The atmosphere in the bar grew as the game went on and even passers were drawn in by the tense but lively atmosphere. The Russians were now fully behind their team and the chance of England playing them in the semi-finals became a distinct possibility. Their next hurdle was Croatia. And as we were beating Colombia in Moscow, Glyn had travelled out to watch Sweden beat Switzerland to set up an encounter with England. This was set to make a perfect end to our trip, as we would both travel to Samara to watch us in a very, very winnable quarter-final before heading to our respective homes.

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