Moscow: Four years ago in Brazil, Wayne Rooney sat in what they call the “exit press conference” after another embarrassing World Cup failure and declared that a major factor in the demise was England’s lack of having the “street-wise” ability that other nations possess.
They were just too nice, he said. They did not have that “nastiness”. They did not have the ability to scrap it out, manage a game, delve into the dark arts if necessary. Do a Colombia. Be tough and, yes, uncompromising. It is a World Cup.
Here the challenge was set. Colombia were Sergio Ramos and Pepe and then some. It was nerve-racking at times, as England veered close to reacting and it was crushing that they could not see it out in normal time. Even Yerry Mina’s injury-time equalising goal led to time-wasting as he took an age to return to his half for the re-start.
It had seemed, though, that England would do it in the 90 minutes and that owed a great deal to Harry Kane and the cute way he won and dispatched his penalty. He showed how to deal with such uncompromising tactics. Unfortunately, others could not follow.
The incident summed up a dirty game; a game where all that mattered was the winning; the kind of game that England have been sucked into in the past and lost their heads. Kane held his nerve.
He had already been the victim of a cynical elbow by Santiago Arias, who slammed into his back as they contested a header. The free-kick was given and Kane simply did not react. If there is one man who Colombia were not going to unsettle with their approach, then it was Kane and, finally, even the haplessly weak American referee Mark Geiger cracked, as he punished Carlos Sanchez for climbing all over the forward at a subsequent corner.
Even then the Colombians surrounded the officials, three, four, five of them and the delay continued, as Kane waited patiently to take the penalty. The delay — carried on — David Ospina tried to get into Kane’s face and the intimidation was just not dealt with.
That delay amounted to three and a half minutes and replays showed that defender Johan Mojica was raking the penalty spot as the arguing continued.
But Kane scored. He showed incredible composure. He won that penalty, he made sure Sanchez brought him down, he showed the street-wise edge that was needed.
In the absence of James Rodriguez, whose swollen calf meant he could not even be risked as a substitute and, despite the guile of their other playmaker Juan Quintero, there was an obvious approach by the South Americans led by their giant, wall-like centre-half Mina even if he was not averse to throwing himself to the turf to try and seek punishment for Raheem Sterling, who he towered over, and who he pushed and pulled, but claimed dragged him down.
England would, to put it bluntly, be roughed up a bit and — well, let’s see how they react was clearly the Colombians approach. This is the World Cup, after all, and the stakes do not get any higher; which is why Wilmar Barrios pushed his head into Jordan Henderson’s face as yet another set-piece developed into a mess, a melee, an occasion when Video Assistant Referees needed even more cameras.
Barrios was only given a yellow card, despite even England manager Gareth Southgate making it clear he felt it was a head-butt with the actions of the referee giving a green light to the Colombians and their rough-house tactics.
It was a red card or nothing. No, in fact, it was a red card. The problem for England was how would they react? Their protests continued as they went down the tunnel at half-time with Ashley Young leading the way, while teammates headed straight for the dressing room, although a Colombian coach made a beeline for Sterling presumably to try and unsettle him. It was almost out-of-hand by now.
England needed to stay calm and show mental strength. It was obvious that Colombia would fight for this and their opponents were not going to budge and certainly not at corners knowing how dangerous Southgate’s side can be.
The Colombians would have been delighted when John Stones was so frustrated that he simply pushed over Barrios who was at the centre of the relentless feistiness.
Once in front, England needed something else they so often lack: game management. A second goal would have killed it, but Colombia inevitably worked their way back and worked up chances. This is a young England team and this was a reminder of that lack of experience and that price was paid with Mina’s injury-time equalising goal.
It went to extra-time. More than ever England needed that mental strength, that resolve, that desire to go again. This was a World Cup, after all.