Gareth Southgate told England’s players to capitalise on this chance to live out their World Cup dreams, although the manager is under no illusions about what a “hugely difficult” quarter-final awaits against Sweden.
Tuesday’s last-16 clash against Colombia was dogged by adversity and controversy, but the Three Lions emerged victorious in a penalty shootout for just the second time after drawing 1-1 after extra-time.
Jordan Henderson failed from the spot but Jordan Pickford denied Carlos Bacca after Mateus Uribe hit the bar, allowing Eric Dier to seal a 4-3 shootout win and mouth-watering quarter-final against Sweden in Samara this Saturday.
“We’ve talked a lot to this team about making their own history, and I feel they’ve really bought into everything we’ve tried to do with them,” Southgate said, having seen Harry Kane’s second-half penalty cancelled out by Yerry Mina in stoppage time.
“The composure they showed in their play for the first 85 to 88 minutes in a big match, under pressure, I thought was really impressive.
“I think for them, definitely a big moment. We want to capitalise on it now.
“I’m already thinking about the next game.
“I’d have liked a week to enjoy this one but haven’t got that because Sweden are a team I respect hugely.
“We’ve not got a good record against them, I think we’ve always underestimated them.
“They have good plans, they have a clear way of playing – and it’s bloody difficult to play against.
“They are greater than the sum of their parts more often than not, so that is a hugely difficult game for us.
“Because at the moment we’re high as a kite and hoping to recover and we’ve got to get back to Repino at six in the morning, but what a great game for us to be in.”
Recovery could be interesting given Southgate said England’s dressing room looked “like a scene from M*A*S*H*” after the 120 minutes in Moscow.
Issues other than cramp need to be assessed and it will take 36 hours after the game to get a fuller picture about the problems sustained on a night when the Three Lions showed their mettle.
Colombia fans made it feel “like an away fixture” but their players’ roughhousing was met by a more streetwise response than generations gone by, even after seeing Wilmar Barrios avoid a red card for headbutting Henderson.
“Maybe we’re getting a bit smarter,” Southgate said.
“Maybe we’re now playing some of our game by the rules the rest of the world are playing.
“But I think we also kept our dignity, kept our sportsmanship, and if we were down it was because we were fouled.”
Southgate felt like there was one England fan to every five Colombia supporters at the Spartak Stadium, but the feel-good factor coupled with lessening concerns about Russia could now see fans head east.
“We have fantastic supporters who’ve had to stand with us for decades of disappointment,” the England boss said.
“I’m extremely proud that our team have made everybody in England very happy tonight and for the next few days, so that’s a really special moment for our country.
“I think we’ll get quite a few looking to travel for the quarter-final, although that’s difficult to get to logistically.”
Samara could be worth the journey, though, given the way England’s players have reacted to pressure so far.
Everton goalkeeper Pickford came under scrutiny following the loss to Belgium, but saved a key penalty having produced a world-class one-handed stop late in the game.
“It was a top-class save – surprised he could reach it given his height,” Southgate said with a laugh, referring to Belgium shot-stopper Thibaut Courtois’ comments about his height.
“His athleticism around the goal is excellent and, again, he executed the plan in the penalty shootout.
“We’d studied all of their penalty takers – and great credit to the collective of staff and to him for taking on board that information and really preparing in the right way.
“You don’t always get what you deserve in life, but I think tonight we did.”