John Stones brands Colombia 'dirtiest team I've ever played' and blasts their behaviour during penalty shoot-out
John Stones has said Colombia are “the dirtiest team I have ever come across” and defeating them shows how streetwise England have become at this World Cup.
Tuesday’s dramatic penalty shoot-out win has set up a quarter-final against Sweden in Samara on Saturday and Stones offered an insight into the cynical approach used by the Colombians, and his delight at knocking them out of the tournament.
“It was probably the dirtiest team I have ever come up against in the respect that when we won a penalty, surrounding the referee, even pushing the referee, the headbutt (on Jordan Henderson) that I am sure you all saw, scuffing the penalty spot. A lot of off-the-ball stuff that I am sure you have not heard about and all the sort of things that you don’t really hear of in a football match,” Stones said.
“I think on our behalf it showed massive character to keep a cool head and not get sucked into their game. I think when you play against a team like that who want to fight and want to disturb you and break your momentum, you can sometimes get dragged into it and that is what they wanted. We had that tunnel vision of what we wanted to get out of the game and stuck to our gameplan.”
The 24-year-old defender claimed he would “get in trouble” if he detailed what the Colombians did, but added: “I have never seen a game like this before and how they behaved. I am sure there could have been several red cards in that game from what happened, mainly off-the-ball stuff. If the referee sees the head-butt it is a totally different game. I don’t really want to say but there were things that I have never experienced before. It was so surprising to come across those things.”
There was a memorable image on the evening of Stones looking back on Colombian midfielder Wilmar Barrios, who had head-butted Henderson, as he ran off to celebrate England’s victory. “I was celebrating to the bench and it has come across a bit wrong but the best thing for us was to beat them at football. That will be the biggest thing that hurt them,” Stones said.
“They are back on the plane going back home and we are through to the next round. We never got into the brawl of what they wanted and to beat them at football, there isn’t anything better than that. At the end of the day they are back on the plane and now we are still here.”
Colombia’s dirty tricks even continued in the shoot-out, after the England players had gathered in a huddle and told each other they did not want this World Cup campaign to end. “We were lined up on the halfway line and I remembered I didn't want to be going home on that flight the next day,” Stones said.
“There was a lot of movement on their (Colombia’s) behalf – if you watch it back they were saying a lot of things to us while the lads were walking up to take the penalties. The lads kept a cool head, credit to them. We knew we didn't want to be going home. There was a lot of talk about it in the huddle after the final whistle, 'It's our time now, we've practised, we've done the hard work. Stay confident’.”
Part of that is game-management and being a bit more savvy, something England have been accused of lacking in the past, as highlighted by Wayne Rooney after their early exit from the last World Cup in Brazil.
So, are England more streetwise? “Yes, definitely. Football has evolved as a whole. And definitely now the game has changed from four years ago,” Stones said. “The boys know when they are in a situation where they can’t get out and look to buy a foul and I think that is clever play. I’ve been on the end of clever players getting their body between me and the ball and getting fouls from me. And sometimes you can’t complain and the lads are very clever. I say clever, but I think it is about having a great footballing brain and knowing when to do that without being called a cheat and diving.
“I don’t think there is anyone in our team who would do that or want to do that. Being clever and buying a smart foul is something that we’ve got as a team and it can help us through the tournament.”
The shoot-out win made “history” but also fuelled the growing excitement back home. “I’d love to win the World Cup. That’s what we want to do, we are playing to try to win it,” Stones added. “I’ve said before at the start, coming here, just to get through the games and see what happens. There’s no point just taking part, we’re looking to have something there that you can take with both hands and win it.
“It’s been a long time since we last won it and we want to make people proud back home, the nation proud of the England team. We are one step closer to doing that but we know we have games ahead of us. The dream is there, and why not?”
Sweden will be obdurate opponents, though. “I think if you say it's an easy game in a quarter-final of a World Cup then you are pretty stupid,” Stones continued, before he was asked for his thoughts on Swedish claims that the pressure is on England. “They are playing it down aren’t they? I’ve said before we can’t underestimate Sweden as a team. They wouldn’t be where they are without quality and without having that hunger to get where they are. It sounds like a good team to me. They are kind of putting all the pressure on us. But they are in the same situation as us. They are in the quarter-finals. It will be a great match.”