England's youngsters hungry to end 12-year knockout drought
MOSCOW (AP) — Young and inexperienced, England is still hungry to beat Colombia and end its run of 12 years without winning a World Cup knockout game.
England has the joint-youngest team left in the tournament along with France, and the team with players who have the fewest international appearances.
Tuesday's game against Colombia in the round of 16 is "a great opportunity to go beyond where more experienced teams went before and I think they're relishing the chance," coach Gareth Southgate said Monday. "You want to be involved in the games that matter and the lads have the chance to write their own stories now."
The last time England won a World Cup knockout game — or any knockout game — was a 1-0 victory over Ecuador in the 2006 World Cup.
"We are the youngest team left in and we are the most inexperienced team left in, but we've got some old fogeys as well who help the younger ones to get through it and show super leadership," Southgate said. One key player is 22-year-old Dele Alli, who has recovered from a thigh strain that sidelined him from England's last two games.
At the older end of the scale, the 32-year-old Ashley Young said he would be keen to take a penalty if the Colombia game goes to a shootout. England fans and players have long worried about the team's poor run in shootouts, without a win since 1996, but the team has been working on psychological techniques to cope with the pressure and Young said he'll volunteer if needed.
Beating Colombia would set up a quarterfinal against either Sweden or Switzerland, potentially offering England a simple route to a first semifinal appearance since 1990. The team has repeatedly denied it's looking beyond the Colombia game, something Southgate called "pointless."
He added that England has taken note of how Colombia beat Poland 3-0 in the group stage and "we've got to make sure that our work without the ball is spot on" to avoid being punished on the counter.
"We're a team that doesn't carry any passengers," Southgate said. "Everybody has to press and work for the team."
England's players may know Colombia star striker Radamel Falcao best from his scoring droughts with Manchester United in 2014-15 and Chelsea in 2015-16, when he scored just five Premier League goals. However, Southgate said his players wouldn't underestimate the Monaco forward.
"I thought he was never at full fitness" in England due to an earlier knee injury, Southgate said. "Every time he plays for his country, his movement in the box is outstanding. We know the quality of his finishing, so he's a player that we know all about and we wouldn't judge him on the period he had in the Premier League, that's for sure."
James Ellingworth is at https://twitter.com/jellingworth