England primed for penalties

Three Lions much better prepared for possible shoot-outs this time with scientific approach

LONDON • When England last endured a shoot-out, against Italy at Euro 2012, Gareth Southgate was worrying about Ashley Cole's body language as the left-back stepped up to take his penalty.

"There was a different movement about his hips if you watch his last stride - he almost fell away," the England manager recalled later.

Cole's unconvincing kick was saved by Gianluigi Buffon, and England lost for the sixth time in seven competitive shoot-outs.

That statistic is also the worst of any nation in major tournaments - Italy have also lost six but won four.

In Moscow on Tuesday, England again venture into the possibility of sudden death when they enter the last-16 knockout stage.

This time, more than any other occasion they hope, preparations are well-advanced for any shoot-out when they face Colombia, whose penalties record in the Copa America and Concacaf Gold Cup reads - won four and lost two.

Ever since England's last shoot-out, Southgate has lobbied the Football Association (FA) hard to adopt "strategies for dealing with stress", including employing a sports psychologist to work closely with the squad during tournaments.

His players have also undertaken psychometric testing to help determine the identity of England's penalty takers in Russia.

The tests will provide one aspect of Southgate's selection process, along with the players' performance in training and conversations they have had with the coaching staff.

"We've looked at collectively how we would want to approach a shoot-out, making sure that there's a calmness, that we own the process, that it's not just decisions that are made on the spur of the moment," he said.

"Definitely it's not about luck. It's not about chance. It's about performing a skill under pressure. There are individual things you can work on within that."

The players happily agreed to take the tests, which were supervised by the FA's technical director, Dan Ashworth, and Pippa Grange, the head of people and team development, as they have become used to the more scientific approach favoured by Southgate, including completing daily wellness questionnaires.

The manager is understood to have ranked all the players in his squad for their potency from the spot and ability to cope with pressure, so all of them will be well aware of their responsibilities before the game against Colombia.

According to Opta stats, Harry Kane (22 out of 26), Jamie Vardy (12 out of 15) and Jordan Henderson (1/1) - that was against Colombia's David Ospina when Liverpool played Arsenal - would doubtless be high on the list.

Harry Maguire (2/4) has the strength of character to take one and Ashley Young (5/7) would also relish the opportunity should he be required.

Fifa has now allowed a fourth substitute to be used in extra time, which means having the option of bringing on a confident penalty taker like Vardy - who is likely to be on the bench - could be crucial.

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 01, 2018, with the headline 'England primed for penalties'. Print Edition | Subscribe