Haunted Gareth Southgate persuades England youngsters to forget history
A 4-3 shoot-out victory over Colombia set up a World Cup quarter-final showdown with Sweden
Gareth Southgate will never get over his own penalty miss 22 years ago but ensuring his young charges are not be daunted by history paid off when they finally laid England's World Cup shootout curse.
"It was a night when I just knew we were going to get over the line," the manager told reporters after England had to mentally recover from a 94th-minute equaliser by Colombia and coming from behind in the shootout before reaching the quarter-finals.
"We had the resilience and belief to get over the line," he said, praising the composure and discipline of his side in the face of rough treatment and a raucous Colombian crowd in Moscow.
In charge for two years of an England team that has left fans so disappointed for decades that few expected much of his young team in Russia, Southgate has resolved to shut out years of failure.
"We've talked to the players about them writing their own stories and tonight was the classic, they don't have to conform to what's gone," he said. "It was a special night.
"They've really bought in to everything we've tried to do."
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Southgate has spoken in the past of how a shambolic set-up left him walking with inexperienced dread to take what would be the final penalty in a Euro '96 semi-final at Wembley against Germany - which he patted into the goalkeeper's arms.
Determined to avoid such horrors, he and his staff have forced England's players to "practise and practise" the penalty routine.
Goalkeeper Jordan Pickford had been thoroughly briefed on every Colombian penalty taker - and remembered his lessons. And every England player knew the order they would shoot in.
Imparting belief is an inexact science, but Southgate made clear much lay in deep preparation and in dispelling ghosts.
"We had total belief in what we were doing right through to the end," he said.
Even when England lost the toss on which goal to use, he said he was able to joke about it.
Even when Jordan Henderson saw the third penalty saved, Southgate believed, despite being aware England had lost all three such World Cup trials.
"I had real faith in the goalkeeper and real faith in the penalty takers," he said. "I knew the messages I wanted to give. We knew it was our process to own. We had total trust in their techniques."
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His thoughts are turned already to the quarter-final in Samara against Sweden on Saturday, determined to capitalise on what captain Harry Kane spoke of as a sense of "huge belief" after getting the burden of English history "off our back".
But for Southgate, who made 57 appearance for England, the memory of his own shoot-out failure remains vivid.
"It will never be off my back, sadly," Southgate said. "That's something that will live with me forever.
"But today is a special moment for this team and hopefully will give belief to new generations of players that follow.
"In life, we always have to believe in what is possible and not be hindered by history or expectations. I think these young players are showing that, and they are enjoying the tournament."
Updated: July 4, 2018 01:39 PM