REPINO, Russia (AP) — England defender John Stones described Colombia as the “dirtiest team I’ve ever come up against” and said his team’s ability to rise above the provocation is a sign of its growing maturity at the World Cup.
England won a penalty shootout Tuesday after a feisty, physical round-of-16 game finished 1-1 following extra time and with eight yellow cards handed out by the referee — tying for the most issued in any game in the tournament. Colombia’s players received six of them.
“I’ve never seen a game like this before and how they behaved,” said Stones, who has played five years in the Premier League and four years for England. “There were things that we’ve never experienced before.”
Among them, said Stones, was Colombia’s players surrounding and pushing the referee, head-butting Jordan Henderson and scuffing the penalty spot before Harry Kane’s second-half spot kick. Stones also highlighted a member of Colombia’s technical staff barging into Raheem Sterling as the players came off for halftime.
“It’s obviously their image and how they’ve represented their country,” Stones said Thursday. “We stuck to our game plan and never got involved in the brawl that they wanted. At the end of the day, they are on the plane back home.”
England’s players weren’t completely innocent, however, with Henderson getting booked and appearing to use his head to barge into an opponent. Argentina great Diego Maradona criticized American referee Mark Geiger and said the outcome of the game was a “monumental theft,” comments he apologized for Thursday after FIFA rebuked him.
England’s national team has often been accused of not being streetwise enough in major tournaments but it passed this test against Colombia, with players killing time at free kicks, for example.
“We kept playing our own football and that’s a great sign for a team to have,” Stones said, “to make sure we have that quality of tunnel vision to get out of the game. It was a difficult situation to be in and we can look back on it and be very proud of it.”
A grueling game has taken its toll on England, with striker Jamie Vardy missing training on Thursday because of a groin injury and battling to be fit for the quarterfinal match against Sweden in Samara on Saturday.
Expectation levels were generally considered to be low among England fans coming into the tournament but they are rising now, particularly since the team is in the half of the draw with the supposedly weaker teams.
Beat Sweden, and England has a game against Croatia or host nation Russia to reach a first World Cup final since 1966.
Stones isn’t looking too far ahead, though, not with England having won only two of its last 15 meetings with the Swedes.
“I think if you say it’s an easy game in a quarterfinal of a World Cup, then you are pretty stupid to say that,” the Manchester City defender said. “They play very structured from the back, sit quite deep from what we’ve seen and we know what we’re up against.
“Sometimes they can throw you these teams, they can go kind of under the radar, but there is no question they are a good team.”
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Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80