Jordan, Jordan, Jordan... what have you done? For 90 minutes last night England looked ok. Slightly edgy at the end but ok. A Colombia team that was built up as a real threat had been largely outplayed. So much so that they resorted to playing the shithouse card. That says an awful lot about this England team. In qualifying Colombia had squeezed in, just, behind a deeply unimpressive Argentina, a so-so Brazil and a well organised Uruguay. At the group stage Colombia finished top thanks to wins over a humbled Poland and a fortunate win over the enthusiastic Senegalese. Against Poland we all sat up and saw the attacking force they could be but sadly they reverted to referee harassment, headbutts and general unsportsmanlike behaviour. Their plan was clear. They wanted to raise the tempo and test the mentality of this young England team. They needn’t have bothered. Gareth Southgate has instilled something in these lads. There is unity like I have not seen since 1990. In another world the press are criticising Southgate for inflatable unicorns and blasts of r’n’b coming from the training ground. In other world cups they would be calling it unprofessional. Not this time though. Southgate is handling the rabid press perfectly. In the wake of Sterling’s tattoo Southgate calmly and glibly talked about the art of tattoos and closed with Sterling looking forward to the game. Ahead of the Panama game he threw the press a curveball. Media desperate as always to find a scapegoat relished the fact Sterling had been dropped. No such luck. Southgate mugged you off. In the heat of Moscow Southgate had the audacity to wear a pale blue shirt, well known to be the worst possible choice for exhibiting underarm crescent moons of perspiration. Mr Cool kept his head and his sweat glands in check.
In about the 92nd minute the World Cup witnessed one of the, if not the, best saves of the tournament. That little tiny goalkeeper who uses his wrong hand sprung from the turf. His legs powered a superhuman leap, no doubt boosted by his sizeable squat butt. The right hand came across, not for the save, but for additional air time and momentum. Eyes transfixed on the flight of a ball destined to fire a very impressive arrow through the hearts of England’s lions. As the ball drew closer the Fatfield Finisher stretched his left arm out, gathering inches from nowhere. The fingers flexed and reached the projectile destined for the top corner. Danger was averted through athleticism and focus which is beyond the reach of mere mortals. Pickford had done it.
What happened next was a sucker punch and took away all of his glory. An excellent header provided an equaliser for Colombia. In extra time England looked leggy and dejected, the Colombians spritely and full of energy. Come the final whistle and the call to penalties there looked to be only one winner. England always lose on penalties after all. When Hendo fired a perfectly placed penalty into the bottom corner our hearts sank as a very impressive leap from Ospina meant England had missed. Here we go again. And then Uribe rattled the bar. Hang on. We’re still in this. Trippier stepped up having seemingly challenged a barber to create a geometrically perfect fringe coupled with baffling lines down the side. He buried it with venom. All the roughhousing from Colombia poured into one vital kick. Jordan walked to his line. His usual bounce and crossbar tapping to either put the taker off or perhaps demonstrate that he isn’t actually that short. In his head he’s saying “Columbia? That’s just up the road from Fatfield. Where Archie’s shop used to be. These are nowt man.” He goes the right way, but hang on, it’s more central than we thought. That wrong hand swings back, firm, strong and palms the ball away. England win.
So Jordan, what have you done? At the start of this World Cup I said I had no connection with the England team. I said they held nothing for me as a Sunderland fan. This was heightened by the reluctance of fans outside Sunderland and Liverpool to recognise henderson’s worth, favouring instead the frankly ineffective Dier. Neville and Wright criticised you. You came back. You showed them all what we hold dear about the best keeper in the world. Get the rave on, send them in. It’s coming home and we’ll see you in the Biddick Inn for a proud homecoming. I’m off to paint my face and hang a flag out my window.