FIFA World Cup 2018: England end longest running gag in footballing history with victory on penalties against Colombia

What is Chandler Bing’s job?

If you’re thinking that transponster is not even a word and convulsing with laughter, you know the concept that I’m going to refer to shortly. To make this slightly more difficult by alluding to more such in-references, which side of the Friends’ “We were on a break” divide are you on? Perhaps you want Seinfeld’s Art Vandelay to resolve the matter? If you’re getting these references, congratulations, you’ve just spotted the recurring joke.

In literature, a running gag or recurring joke is a literary device that makes frequent appearances over the course of a story. Initially, a running gag might be an unintentional event, but as the joke grows with its story in terms of familiarity with its audience, it often is repeated many times over for comedic effect. In situation comedies (sitcoms), running gags are staple comedic devices, to the point that audiences begin to anticipate the reuse of the reference. On Tuesday, England broke the recurring pattern by getting past Colombia on penalties.England getting knocked out on penalties is probably the longest running gag in footballing history. Reference their shootout record with an accompanying laugh track, and you have a staple joke for a football-based sitcom.

England lost their first penalty shootout to the (West) Germans in the 1990 World Cup. It wasn’t yet a joke in 1996, when they won in the quarters against Spain, but lost to the Germans in the semis. And then began the procession — they got knocked out on penalties in the 1998 and 2006 World Cups, and in the 2004 and 2012 Euros. And as a true in-joke, the manager of England is Gareth Southgate — the man who missed his spot kick against the Germans in the 1996 Euro semi-final.

The situation was set up beautifully for the punchline. Jordan Henderson even missed his penalty; but instead, England managed to get over the line thanks to Jordan Pickford’s save and the subsequent Kieran Trippier and Eric Dier penalties. Ross would get Rachel in the end, after all. We should have seen the signs: the equally long “Football is a simple game….” trope was knocked down recently with the Germans departing the tournament, but how often do two unlikely events happen together?

Yet, for long periods of the England-Colombia match at the Spartak stadium, the game produced little in terms of end result. Both teams played to win, but lacked the penetration in the final third of the pitch to eke out a goal. Having rested important players in their game against Belgium (who responded with similar changes of their own), England played their first squad for this knockout tie against Colombia: Kyle Walker, John Stones and Harry Maguire in defence, ahead of Pickford; a central midfield of Dele Alli, Lingard and Henderson with width provided by Kieran Trippier and Ashley Young; Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane up front. At the other end, egged on by their vociferous supporters, Colombia lined up in a conservative 4-3-2-1 Christmas tree formation. Crucially, their key player and 2014 World Cup Golden Boot winner James Rodriguez missed out due to injury and was relegated to cheering his team on from the timelines.

Both the teams started the game at a decent tempo, trying to knock the ball around. England dominated the early exchanges, making frequent forays close to the Colombian penalty box. The Colombians were able to string a few passes together, but couldn’t make incursions of their own into the England half. The first real chance came in the 16th minute when Harry Kane reached out to a Trippier cross, but only managed to loop his header over the net from an acute angle.

As the game wore on, it threatened to boil over in the manner of a schoolyard brawl. Between the 40th and the 70th minute, the match saw seven yellow cards. The fuse was lit by shoulder barges between Cuadrado and Maguire in the 32nd minute; eight minutes later, there was a major confrontation at the edge of the Colombian penalty box. After Kane won a free kick, Henderson barged into Barrios, who responded with a mild retaliatory headbutt. Henderson followed the best practices of method acting and channelled his inner South American by dropping to the floor, writhing in supposed pain. After a brief VAR consultation, Barrios was lucky to escape with a yellow. On a different day, he might have seen a more severe punishment. The last significant action of the first half would come from Colombia’s Quintero, who got the ball down the right and shot from distance towards Pickford, who produced a routine save.

The second half continued in the same scrappy vein. In the 54th minute, Carlos Sanchez took down Kane in the box with a proper rugby tackle. Waving away the loud and lengthy Colombian protests, the referee pointed to the spot. Tottenham’s Kane faced Arsenal’s Ospina in a mini North London derby duel from twelve yards. After waiting for nearly four minutes for the referee to restart proceedings, Kane dispatched a calmly taken penalty, extending his lead in the 2018 World Cup Golden boot standings.

With Colombia needing a goal, they got on Bacca for Lerma. England’s Trippier delivered yet another cross into the box in the 62nd minute, but Alli headed over. The protests from Colombia got louder as they demanded that Maguire be punished for a dive in the box; Falcao got himself booked for his vocal protests. With 10 minutes to go, Bacca picked up the ball courtesy a Kyle Walker error and started a threatening move. Thankfully for England, Cuadrado couldn’t keep his shot down. Five minutes later, Henderson prevented Falcao from having an uncontested header; England were barely holding on to their lead.

With visuals of a forlorn James Rodriguez appearing frequently on the television, Colombia seemed to have missed their best chance to equalize thanks to an amazing Pickford save. In the third minute of added time, Colombia’s Uribe smashed an almighty long distance shot, only for Pickford to acrobatically leap to his left and tip the ball away from the goal. Thankfully for Colombia, they would score off the ensuing corner. Barcelona’s Mina headed the ball down, and the ball bounced above Trippier and went into the goal. Cue pandemonium. The match headed into extra time, courtesy Mina’s third goal of the tournament. Colombia had the better chances in extra time, but couldn’t make their advantage count. England, apart from Vardy’s snapshot from an offside position and an agonizing Danny Rose shot across the face of goal, couldn’t find the decisive goal either. Fortunately for England, their new generation, perhaps unencumbered by the weight of history, won the shootout.

Up next for England are Sweden. The Swedes are a well-drilled unit and are hard to break down. This English side might struggle to find an opening as the midfield isn’t producing the magic. Also worrisome for the Three Lions is the fact that they have conceded in every single game. Sweden are usually laborious in attack themselves and hence the game has all the makings of a tight encounter. But it remains to be seen who might be laughing if the game goes to penalties.