LONDON - John Stones insists England are not cheats following criticism of their tactics in the euphoric shootout triumph over Colombia. The centre half, who branded Colombia the "dirtiest" team he has ever faced, defended England’s approach in the face of comments from Jose Mourinho and Diego Maradona suggesting Gareth Southgate used underhand tactics against the South Americans.
England were awarded a penalty on Tuesday when Carlos Sanchez was adjudged to have fouled Harry Kane, leaving the Colombians furious. But Stones is adamant his team are staying within the rules.
"I say it’s clever. I think it is about having a great footballing brain and knowing when to do that without being called a cheat or diver," he said. "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."
Colombia tried to unsettle England through various methods of gamesmanship and Stones says some of their antics were the worst he has encountered, which made the victory all the more sweeter for the Manchester City star.
"They are probably the dirtiest team I’ve ever come up against," said Stones. "I’ve never seen a game like this before and how they behaved. It was just so surprising to come across those things. I think the best thing for us was to beat them at football. We stuck to our game plan and never got into the brawl that they wanted. The biggest thing that will hurt them is going home."
When discussing England’s display, Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho told Russia Today: "The negative thing for me was the fact, there is exaggeration on theatre by the players. I was surprised to see central defenders like Maguire, normally he is a very honest guy, diving in the attacking box and asking the referee for VAR."
Even Maradona, arguably football’s most famous rogue, waded into the debate branding England’s victory a "monumental theft". An online petition ordering the last-16 tie be replayed has been signed by more than 200,000 people. There is a similar petition calling for the game’s referee, American Mark Geiger, to be sacked by MLS.
"We’re definitely a very clever team in respect of knowing when to do certain things in games," Stones said. "The boys high up the pitch know when they are in a situation where they can’t get out and look to buy a foul. 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. Sometimes you can’t complain."