The boss of Heathrow has accused UK Border Force of a lack of leadership after three-hour queues at passport control during last week’s England Colombia World Cup game.

The number of manned desks at Terminal 4 halved as the English took on the Colombians in the first round of the knock stages last Tuesday leading to three hour queues.

The Times claims passengers were forced to wait on aircraft because border staff were watching the game and Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye has demanded no repeat during tonight semi-final against Croatia.

Holland-Kaye claimed the congestion at Terminal 4 was “not the result of excess demand or punctuality, but the lack of staffing at the border”, in a letter to Paul Lincoln, head of Border Force, which The Times claims to have seen.

“The worst queuing occurred during the World Cup game when the number of desks manned dropped from typically 22 to 11 and the queue time increased to three hours,” he said. “Given there were 28 officers on duty, this seems to be a failure of leadership.”

The Home Office said the problems at the terminal were due to a failure of a computer system, complex casework and late flights.

A spokesman told The Times: “Every effort is made to keep delays to a minimum, but we also have a duty to maintain the security of the border.”