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Stones proud of English maturity in face of “dirtiest team I’ve played”

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John Stones has called the Colombia side which England beat in a penalty shootout in the 2018 World Cup round of 16 on Tuesday, “the dirtiest team I’ve ever come up against.”

[ MORE: Top 5 storylines — World Cup quarterfinals ]

More importantly than Colombia’s questionable tactics, Stones is proud of the maturity shown by a young England side (average age: 25.6 years old) that refused to fall into the South Americans’ trap. It’s that focus which helped them reach Saturday’s quarterfinal clash with Sweden, and it’s that focus which will serve them best as the Three Lions chase a place in the World Cup semifinals for the first time since 1990, and perhaps their first final since winning it all in 1966 — quotes from the AP:

“The best thing for us was to beat them at football — that will hurt them most. They’re on the plane going home and we’re in the next round.”

“The game was so strange. It was the dirtiest team I’ve ever come up against, in the respect of when we won a penalty, surrounding the referee, pushing the referee, the head-butt you’ve all seen, scuffing the penalty spot and a lot of off-the-ball stuff I’m sure you’ve not heard about.

“All the sort of things you don’t really hear in a football match. On our behalf, it showed massive character to keep a cool head and not get dragged into their game. We stuck to our plan and kept playing our way and that’s a great quality to have. It was a difficult situation but one we’ve overcome and can be proud of.”

“We kept playing our own football and that’s a great sign for a team to have, 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.”

Tuesday’s game saw eight yellow cards (six to Colombia) and a penalty (to England) given by referee Mark Geiger, and could have very easily seen 10 minutes of second-half stoppage time after following a handful of prolonged stoppages in play. Nearly four minutes of real time passed between the moment Geiger whistled to award England a penalty, and the time at which Harry Kane finally took, and converted, it.

VIDEO: Lingard nets stunner as England demolish Panama

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The Three Lions are cruising towards the last 16 of the World Cup.

England led Panama 5-0 in Nizhny Novgorod as the half time whistle blew and Lingard’s curler was the pick of the bunch as Harry Kane and John Stones each had a double with penalty kicks and headers respectively.

Watch Lingard’s stunner in the video below.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.

Watch Live: Manchester City vs. Huddersfield Town

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Huddersfield Town hopes to clinch Premier League safety and record a historic upset when it visits Manchester City on Sunday (Watch live at 8:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Man City will lift the Premier League trophy after the match, and we’ll have all the coverage.

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

John Stones makes his first start since March for City, which keeps whiz kid Aymeric Laporte on the bench.

LINEUPS

Manchester City: Ederson, Walker, Stones, Otamendi, Delph, Fernandinho, De Bruyne, Sane, Silva, Sterling, Jesus. Subs: Bravo, Gundogan, Laporte, Bernardo, Mendy, Yaya Toure, Foden.

Huddersfield Town: Lossl, Smith, Kongolo, Hogg, Mooy, Lowe, Pritchard, Mounie, Zanka, Schindler, Hadergjonaj. Subs: Coleman, Malone, Billing, Van La Parra, Depoitre, Quaner, Stankovic.

Areas of improvement for Man City next season

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Many are trumpeting Manchester City’s amazing title season as the tip of the iceberg under Pep Guardiola at the Etihad Stadium.

While the club’s momentum was tired by a pair of losses to Liverpool in the UEFA Champions League and a come-from-ahead failure versus Manchester United, the City set is prepared to smash any number of records by season’s end.

Yet it’s not irresponsible to suggest City will get better in 2018-19. Any argument that teams may figure out Guardiola can be mooted by his players’ increased familiarity with his system. There’s an argument to be made that City will lose more matches based solely on bounces and luck, but Guardiola’s men can perform better even with the stylish demands of their boss.

Here’s how:

Return of Mendy — Benjamin Mendy was a thrilling addition to the team before his ruptured ACL caused him to become more known for his entertaining Twitter feed than anything he’d do with a ball at his feet. Left back was actually an issue for City on several occasions this season, and Mendy’s return to health coupled with increased Danilo familiarity (should he stay) will help the cause more than it hurts it.

English backs get better (or get going) — Of players who played a bunch for City, Kyle Walker and John Stones ranked ninth and 13th according to WhoScored and ninth and 11th on Squawka in terms of individual performances. Walker’s numbers were his worst in three seasons, understandably given his comfort at Spurs and a new system, while Stones has been stagnant for both Everton and City since his breakout first two seasons in 2013-14 and 2014-15. Still just 23, he needs to improve to be a part of a top Premier League defense.

More consistency from the right wing — Raheem Sterling can line up on any part of an attack trident, even getting some center forward time, but the league needs to look out if he can continue to improve his service from the right side. Right now, teams focus heavily on Leroy Sane on the left, where Guardiola looks to set up shop more often than not. That’s opened things up for Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, and David Silva… now Sterling needs to do the same for Sane, who could have an unbelievable run with a little more space.

Center forward insurance — Sergio Aguero was devastating at forward despite a car accident and knee injury restricting his season so far to 25 matches (21 goals and six assists there is pretty good, huh?). He’s also 29 years old.

Recently-minted 21-year-old striker Gabriel Jesus has 10 league goals this season, but only two since netting eight times in his first 11 matches. Olarenwaju Kayode and Marlos Moreno won’t be the answer in returning from loan spells, and Lukas Nmecha isn’t quite ready to be a reliable part of the club.

Who are Pep’s second and third strike options next year? At least one is probably coming from outside the Man City stable.

Man City: John Stones limps off with leg injury

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One Man City center back took a yellow card in the third minute, while another is in even more trouble on Saturday at King Power Stadium.

John Stones pulled up with an apparent hamstring injury in the 28th minute of Man City’s visit to Leicester City.

[ MORE: Arsenal 2-0 Spurs | 3 things ]

Running stride for stride for Demarai Gray, Stones grabbed at his upper left leg and crumpled to the pitch.

Eliaquim Mangala replaced the improving English big back, and City will hope Stones’ absence isn’t as long as some hamstring ailments.