Vassell to be spared penalty notoriety

Deep in the night, the Sunderland defender Michael Gray was trying, unsuccessfully, to force his way into a nightclub and resorted to the footballer's tried and tested chat-up line to a doorman. "Don't you know who I am." A few days later after an eight-goal draw in the 1998 First Division play-off final, Gray missed the penalty that cost Sunderland the Premiership and an estimated £10m. As he climbed into a numb and silent team coach, the club's assistant manager, Bobby Saxton, shouted: "Bloody hell, Mickey, everybody knows who you are now." Those who only watch football in major tournaments will know who Darius Vassell is for a while to come. The Aston Villa striker left the pitch in tears, as everybody who has missed a penalty for England seems to have done. The exception was David Batty, who remarked that it was a game and he would not let it ruin his life.

Deep in the night, the Sunderland defender Michael Gray was trying, unsuccessfully, to force his way into a nightclub and resorted to the footballer's tried and tested chat-up line to a doorman. "Don't you know who I am." A few days later after an eight-goal draw in the 1998 First Division play-off final, Gray missed the penalty that cost Sunderland the Premiership and an estimated £10m. As he climbed into a numb and silent team coach, the club's assistant manager, Bobby Saxton, shouted: "Bloody hell, Mickey, everybody knows who you are now." Those who only watch football in major tournaments will know who Darius Vassell is for a while to come. The Aston Villa striker left the pitch in tears, as everybody who has missed a penalty for England seems to have done. The exception was David Batty, who remarked that it was a game and he would not let it ruin his life.

It is unlikely Vassell will receive the kind of notoriety accorded to Chris Waddle and Stuart Pearce, who failed to score from penalties on a similar night in Turin 14 years ago.

The shoot-out with Germany was the first England had ever taken part in and it was for a greater prize, a place in the World Cup final to face a lethargic Argentinian team Bobby Robson's side felt superior to.

As every media organisation strove to remind us yesterday, losing on penalties is a very English thing to do. This is not quite true. England's record is poor but it is better than either the Netherlands or Italy, who have staked more on spot kicks. The Dutch, who have lost all four of their shoot-outs, have been denied a place in one World Cup and two European Championship finals because of this lottery while Italy have surrendered a World Cup and a place in a World Cup final in Rome.

In his exceptional autobiography, Gareth Southgate recalled what it was like to take and miss a penalty in a European Championship semi-final. "The walk seemed to take forever and it struck me how dark the night had become. Andreas Kopke (the German goalkeeper) threw the ball out, and it struck the crossbar and rebounded to the far side of the penalty area. I knew what he was doing; he was trying to spook me, to string the whole thing out. It worked." In Lisbon on Thursday evening Ricardo did much the same to Owen Hargreaves, trying to point out that his penalty was not being taken from the correct spot. Hargreaves was not fazed; Southgate was, especially when he realised Kopke had noticed which corner of the net he was focusing on.

Southgate, like Batty two years later against Argentina in the second round of the World Cup, had never scored a penalty in professional football.

On his return from France, the then England manager, Glenn Hoddle, was pilloried for not practising penalties at their base in La Baule. Hoddle's defence, summarised in his World Cup Diary, was that it was pointless to try it training because nothing could replicate the pressure of having to take one for real.

"That walk from the halfway line to the penalty spot with millions of eyes on you, is when it hits you. When you run up and the goal starts shrinking, you know you're in trouble. Unfortunately, you don't know how you are going to feel until the moment of truth; you've either got it or you haven't.

"The unfortunate thing is that England's footballers now have a big psychological block to overcome when it comes to penalty shoot-outs." That was before Lisbon.

Hoddle wrote that he knew instantly who was up for it, which is why he chose Batty. Des Walker had told Robson he did not want to take a penalty in the Stadio delle Alpi, Paul Ince refused at Wembley while Tony Adams and Sol Campbell were reluctant in St Etienne. Nobody blamed them; they simply thought they would not take good penalties.

Hoddle had considered putting on Teddy Sheringham with five minutes remaining. However, he decided against it on the grounds he could hardly play three strikers in a team reduced to 10 following David Beckham's dismissal. Adams thought this was precisely what he should have done and considered it was a mistake to remove Darren Anderton, who could be trusted with a penalty, for Batty who could not.

Pearce, who redeemed his miss in Turin with a wonderfully-taken spot-kick in the quarter-finals of Euro 96 against Spain - which remains the only shoot-out England have won - supported Hoddle's decision. He said: "I could practise 100 penalties at 10 o'clock in the morning but it wouldn't help me at 10 o'clock that night when it mattered." The irony was that by practising penalties inside the Stadium of Light, England contributed to the deterioration of the spot that helped Beckham and Rui Costa to miss.

Penalties were practised during Euro '96 but Pearce claimed they were done so light-heartedly that they were valueless. In 1990 there had been no thoughts at all of penalties as the semi-final with Germany approached and he said at the time that he doubted it had even crossed Robson's mind.

Interestingly, Pearce wrote afterwards that Robson ought to have substituted Peter Shilton with Dave Beasant just before the end. Since Shilton is generally regarded as one of the two finest keepers ever to have played for England, this seems strange but Beasant had recent experience of a penalty save in a big match - the 1988 FA Cup final - and in Pearce's words: "He filled the goal." Pearce had no confidence Shilton would save any of the German penalties but six years later considered David Seaman a crucial advantage in similar circumstances. England still lost.

In 1968 Italy and the Soviet Union drew 0-0 in the European Championship semi-final. The winner was decided on a toss of a coin. These days it seems a hopelessly quaint way of settling a huge match and it would make undeniably poor television. But there is an honesty about it. The lottery is absolute, there is no point practising and afterwards there are no victims.

PAYING THE PENALTY ENGLAND'S SHOOT-OUT RECORD

1990: World Cup semi-final v West Germany, Turin

The old rivals fought themselves to a standstill in an epic battle at the San Siro. Gary Lineker took the game to extra-time when his 80th-minute goal cancelled out Andreas Brehme's deflected 60th-minute opener. In the penalty shoot-out Stuart Pearce saw his attempt saved by Bodo Illgner but it is Chris Waddle's miss that is branded on the memory. The winger blasted his attempt high over the bar.

1996: European Championship quarter-final v Spain, Wembley

This remains the only penalty shoot-out England have won and came at the end of a bruising encounter that Terry Venables' side were fortunate to have survived. The sight of Stuart Pearce celebrating with both fists clenched six years after the agonies of Turin remains one of the game's most enduring images. Spain's Fernando Hierro hit the bar with their first penalty. Miguel Angel Nadal saw his effort saved.

1996: European Championship semi-final v Germany, Wembley

Alan Shearer gave England the lead in the third minute with a header but the Germans levelled 13 minutes later. Paul Gascoigne could have won it if his leg had been a centimetre longer when he stretched to reach a late, low cross. The first five penalties from each side went in. The shoot-out entered sudden death and Gareth Southgate saw a tame effort saved by Andreas Kopke. Andreas Möller drove in the winner.

1998: World Cup second round v Argentina, St Etienne

Argentina's Gabriel Batistuta and England's Alan Shearer score penalties early on. The then 18-year-old Michael Owen puts England in the lead with a brilliant solo goal. Javier Zanetti's equalises in first-half stoppage time. David Beckham is then sent off for kicking Diego Simeone. England's 10 men defended heroically but it was all in vain as first Paul Ince missed then David Batty saw his attempt saved.

2004: European Championship quarter-final v Portugal, Lisbon

Michael Owen gives England an early lead. Helder Postiga equalises after 83 minutes. Rui Costa scores in the second period of extra-time only for Frank Lampard to level the tie five minutes later.David Beckham then Rui Costa fire over in the shoot-out. The Portuguese keeper Ricardo becomes a national hero as he saves Darius Vassell's kick before beating David James from the spot himself.

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