Beginning with their 1990 semi-final heartache against West Germany, England had previously lost all three World Cup shootouts and three out of four in the European Championship and they looked on course for another nightmare when midfielder Jordan Henderson saw his spot-kick saved by David Ospina.
But Colombia’s Mateus Uribe hit the bar and England’s Jordan Pickford saved from Carlos Bacca, leaving Eric Dier to score the decisive penalty and earn a quarter-final against Sweden, while denying the Colombians a second straight run to the last eight.
England’s first knockout victory since 2006 was particularly sweet for coach Gareth Southgate, whose shootout miss decided the Euro ‘96 semi-final, and vindicated – just – his decision to field a second-string side in the final group game defeat by Belgium to secure an easier route towards the final.
He should also be given credit for insisting his players practice penalties, even bringing in a psychologist to help them, after a succession of his predecessors wrote the whole process off as a lottery beyond their control.
“We have fantastic supporters who have had to stand with us through decades of disappointment and this was a really special moment for our country,” Southgate said.
“Today will give belief for generations to follow and not be hindered by history or expectations.
“The players have really executed everything (in the shootout) that we’ve talked about exceptionally well and we showed incredible resilience to come back from huge disappointment at the final whistle and keep our calm.”
If England get past Sweden they face a potential semi-final against hosts Russia or Croatia for their first appearance in a final since winning the World Cup for the only time in 1966.
England had looked set to be going through with few dramas when tournament leading scorer Harry Kane smashed in a 57th-minute penalty, his sixth goal at the finals, only for Yerry Mina to head an equaliser in the third minute of stoppage time.
“We were so unlucky not to go through in 90 minutes,” said Kane, who also converted his shootout kick along with Marcus Rashford and Kieran Tripper. “No one laid on the floor and we stood there when it counted.”
There had been precious little drama – though much petulance – throughout most of normal time as a Colombia side shorn of injured playmaker James Rodriguez set out to defend.
England were the better side without looking too dangerous but were then gifted the lead when Carlos Sanchez hauled down England’s captain and talisman Kane once too often.
After four minutes of mayhem as Colombia protested, Kane kept his cool and smashed in his third spot kick of Russia 2018.
When Juan Cuadrado blazed horribly over the bar with 10 minutes left from Colombia’s first chance it looked all over for them but there was a fiery sting in the tail of normal time.
Pickford made a superb save to touch wide what could have been the goal of the tournament from Uribe but from the following corner – Colombia’s first of the match – giant defender Mina rose highest to head in the equaliser.
England substitute Dier missed the best chance of the extra period when he headed over but he made up for it in emphatic style before being mobbed by his relieved team mates.
“It was a nervous one. I’ve never really been in a situation like that before but felt I had to score after missing the header at the end so I’m just thankful I scored,” he said.
Despite his team collecting six yellow cards to England’s two, coach Jose Pekerman felt Colombia had been on the wrong side of American referee Mark Geiger’s decisions.
“A player fakes a foul, they are trying to get the referee to book another player,” he said. “There is a lot of confusion with this type of play.
“It was very difficult to get into the match. There was a lot of rhythm and speed but as soon as the ball was in the box my players were not cool and composed.”
Reporting by Mitch Phillips; Editing by Ken Ferris