Analysis: Will young "lions" bring England to Word Cup final?

Source: Xinhua| 2018-07-05 01:17:39|Editor: mmm
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By Yan Lei

MOSCOW, July 4 (Xinhua) -- England reached the World Cup quarterfinals in a rather dramatic fashion on Tuesday, with the Three Lions drawing with Colombia 1-1 through 120 minutes and sealing the historic penalty shootout victory.

"It's a big night for England," said England captain Harry Kane after the match.

"It's a young team but we've grown up a lot on that pitch. We know obviously in the past England haven't done great and it was great to get that one off our back," said the 24-year-old.

Until Tuesday, England had a rather dreadful record for shootouts, having been involved in three ones in the World Cup history and lost all three of them. They have also lost three of the four shootouts at the European Championships.

England coach Gareth Southgate, who played the 1998 World Cup for England, has been burdened by his own miss at a decisive penalty shootout against Germany in the 1996 European Championships.

"It will never be off my back, sadly. That's something that will live with me forever," Southgate said.

But the 47-year-old is now able to pin hopes on a new generation of England, who have been able to "not be hindered by history or expectations" and are "rewriting their own history," in Southgate's words.

"It is a special moment for this team. It'll hopefully give belief to the generations of players that will follow...We're looking forward now to the quarterfinals," Southgate said.

For England, the route to the final seems clear now. The Three Lions will face Sweden in the quarterfinals on July 7 in Samara, and winners of that match are going to play either Russia or Croatia on July 11 in the semifinals.

Southgate said that they will not underestimate Sweden this time. "They are another team we have a poor record against. We have underestimated them for years," said the coach.

England and Sweden have two previous World Cup encounters, in 2002 and 2006, respectively, both ending in draws. "We know exactly how they play and it's going to be a real tough test," said Southgate.

But although difficulties are in mind, hopes are now high.

England are the only team that have won a World Cup in their side of the draw until the final. With Spain eliminated, Russia and Croatia must seem less intimidating. Southgate's decision to let Belgium win that last group match seems to be leading the Three Lions to an easier path to reach the World Cup final for the first time since 1966.

Moreover, the ending of the shootout jinx is also giving the young lions confidence more than ever. As some have commented, if England can win a penalty shootout, surely anything is now possible.

"This will give us more belief than ever, and the fans more belief than ever back home," said Kane, who is now top scorer of the tournament with six goals.

"Hopefully this continues. I'm extremely proud of these achievements, but I want to do better and do more," he said.