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05 Jul 2018

England: Justice poetic and new history written in World Cup penalty triumph

England: Justice poetic and new history written in World Cup
penalty triumph

The Three Lions dealt with the pressure and did something their predecessors were never able to; win a penalty shootout.

REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

Wrongs were righted and justice was poetic as England won a penalty shootout for the first time in their history at a major tournament to reach their first World Cup quarter-final since 2006.

A sense of the excruciatingly familiar engulfed fans both inside and outside the stadium alike as Jordan Henderson trudged up to the spot confidently - if a tad arrogantly - kicking the ball up, before shock and horror befell him as David Ospina saved his penalty. 

Heads lowered, tears welled and an ominous silence inundated the country as the Three Lions stared down the barrel of departure, the abyss of those that failed.

REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

Germany in 1990. Argentina in 1998. Portugal in 2006. England were harrowingly hoodooed, unable to win a World Cup penalty shootout. Trapped within their own minds, eternally contemplating 'what if' and stuck in the depths of a dark curse cast over the nation.

Internally tortured, mentally timorous. Desperately clawing, forever falling.

Once condemned to this place of perpetual torment, dare not dream of escape. Enduringly etched into the public memory as those that missed, such a hellish fate threatened to engulf this generation of Lions, endangering possible success at future tournaments like a bodily bacterium eating you from the inside out.

Henderson, particularly, tread the line closely and risked tipping over the edge into despair, saved, ultimately, by his teammates as they reeled him away from a future of denunciation. Rescued by the strong left hand of Jordan Pickford, the same hand that brilliantly swiped away Carlos Bacca's penalty and gave England the advantage. Rescued by Eric Dier's right boot.

REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

But what changed for the Three Lions? How did they break the curse?

Gareth Southgate knows all too well about the burden, victimised by this inexplicable wizardry against Germany in the semi-finals of Euro 1996, in which his penalty was saved and England were eliminated. He can empathise.

Perhaps only those that understand can avert England from succumbing to this same fate. Only those that still live within the Hell. Just as Andy Dufresne tunnelled out of Shawshank State Penitentiary across 19 years of wrongful incarceration, Southgate emerged unscathed from the flames of eternal damnation after 22.

As Andy orchestrated his escape by earning the trust of Warden Samuel Norton - ultimately stealing his shoes and ledgers pertaining to details of his money laundering exploits - Southgate earned the trust of his players, breeding an open environment encouraging comfort, not tension.

REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

The penalty victory derives from this trust. From the confidence he inspires in his players. "I had a plan," Kieran Trippier explained. "I knew the spot I was going to put it in [and] I had practised putting it there."

Believe in the process and you will be rewarded. "We had talked long and hard about owning the process of a shootout," Southgate said. "They kept calm. The players have taken it all on board. It's a special moment for us."

We are not watching England of old, no. This is an entirely new generation, one not bound by the failures of the past, one not subjected to the same scrutiny. No, this is a new England. The future is not yet written, and the Three Lions have tools to shape it themselves.

REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

With Dier's winner came release from yesteryear's shackles, as the previous Hell England resided in froze over. "We're trying to write our own history," exclaimed Southgate in the wake of the match. "We don't have to be bowed by the pressure of the past."

Like a painter standing in front of a blank canvas, Southgate rights his wrongs. Confronts his demons. New history was written and, thus, the curse was broken.

Defined as a situation in which virtue trumps vice, England's justice was poetic as they overcame the Colombians' underhand tactics, with penalties the perfect remedy for decades of hellish exile. When Drake said 'I can never right my wrongs unless I write them down for real," I felt that.

Listen to the RealSport football writers discuss all the action from England's penalty win over Colombia in Kremlins in the Basement: RealSport’s daily World Cup podcast.