SAMARA, Russia (Reuters) - Having lived to fight another day after a nail-biting penalty shootout, England face Sweden in the World Cup quarter-finals on Saturday with thicker skins and vital experience in the bank, according to captain Harry Kane.
England booked their spot in the last eight with a 4-3 shootout victory over Colombia after an often tense and tetchy encounter that only went to extra time after the South Americans scored deep into stoppage time.
That was a body blow that many sides might have struggled to recover from, especially one drawn from one of the youngest squads in the tournament.
Yet Gareth Southgate’s team dug in and then became the first England side to win a World Cup shootout.
According to Kane, that tension-filled climax has not only given them a huge psychological lift but also left them ready to go through it all again if necessary against Sweden.
“It will give us huge belief if we are in that moment again. We will be much stronger for it. We have got that in the bank and know we can come through the other side,” he told reporters on Friday.
Of all the qualities attributed to England’s collection of tyros in the lead-up to the World Cup, “battle-hardened” was certainly not one.
They were perhaps written off in many people’s eyes precisely because they lacked that tournament experience, even if some saw it as an advantage given England’s string of recent failures.
Yet while there were many questions about England’s ability to progress in Russia with a young side burdened with none of the high expectations of previous squads, it was apparent early on that unity in the camp would not be an issue.
England squads at previous tournaments have rarely seemed as together as Southgate’s current crop, and what was already a fiercely strong fraternal bond between the players has only been reinforced by their win over Colombia.
“(The victory) has made us even stronger, the joy in everyone’s faces, we have worked so hard and are even more proud of each other,” said Kane, the tournament’s top scorer with six goals.
“I look at them like my brothers. We would do anything for each other. When you go through a battle like that it gives you so much energy and belief. We are hungry for more, we want that feeling. If it (against Sweden) goes to extra time and penalties we are ready for that, to do whatever it takes.”
England have the chance to reach their first World Cup semi-final since 1990, having already conquered a number of landmarks along the way.
They have won their first World Cup knockout match in 12 years, secured a record 6-1 victory over Panama in the group stage and grabbed their first ever shootout win in this tournament.
“We are an improving side who want to make our own history,” manager Southgate said.
“So we want to keep making that history, and we know it is not since 1990 that we were in a World Cup semi-final, so we are hugely ambitious to do that, but we know there is nothing on our mind other than tomorrow’s game.”
Reporting by Toby Davis; Editing by Hugh Lawson