England seek cool heads in the event of penalty drama

Eriksson and McClaren anxious to ensure no repeat of past shoot-out heartaches as tournament enters nerve-jangling knock-out phase

Glenn Moore
Monday 09 December 2013 04:04

It is one of the rare occasions an English team has ended on the winning side in a penalty shoot-out but, when I asked Sven Goran Eriksson about it yesterday, he grimaced.

The year was 1995, the venue Genoa, the hero David Seaman. He was in goal for Arsenal, despite a cracked rib, when the Gunners defeated Eriksson's Sampdoria team on penalties in the semi-finals of the European Cup-Winners' Cup. It remains the most important match of Eriksson's lengthy management career to end in a shoot-out.

That could change in the next 16 days, which is why, unlike one of his recent predecessors, Eriksson has had the England team practicing penalties. After recalling 1995 he added: "I have won in penalty shoot-outs – with Sampdoria I beat Porto. But with Roma I lost to Real Zaragoza so I am down two-one at the moment."

England know the feeling. Since 1990 they have been knocked out of two World Cups and one European Championship on penalties. The one victory, over Spain in Euro 96, was followed by a shoot-out defeat to Germany in the next match. Even in the meaningless King Hassan II Cup, a pre-France 98 tournament in Morocco, England lost 4-3 to Belgium.

Since 10 ties have gone to penalties in the last three World Cups, with all six finalists involved in a shoot-out at some stage, England need to improve. Steve McClaren, Eriksson's coach, said: "If we progress to the final there will be at least one penalty shoot-out so we have to prepare for it."

England have attempted to do this by re-enacting the full scenario, with players walking from the half-way line while their team-mates stay behind it to watch. However, as the Denmark coach Morten Olsen said yesterday: "You can practice taking penalties technically but [he pointed to his temples] you cannot practice here. And that is where it is important."

Which is where, in theory, it comes down to character. What can be deduced from Thomas Gravesen's refusal to discuss penalties when I broached the subject yesterday? Gravesen is regarded as one of Denmark's likely takers, along with Ebbe Sand, Jon-Dahl Tomasson (or Martin Jorgensen if Tomasson is off), Stig Tofting and Niclas Jensen. Few who know him at Goodison would suggest Gravesen lacks character; nor would that charge be levelled at Gareth Southgate and Stuart Pearce, two famous failures.

It is not just about technique, either. History shows the most gifted often fail. Among those to have missed in World Cup shoot-outs are Michel Platini and Socrates, while Franco Baresi and Roberto Baggio were Italy's culprits in the 1994 final.

So it is not the ability to stand up and be counted that matters, nor being a magician with the ball. It is about being able to control a pumping heart, rubber legs and a mind grappling with the enormity of the task. Familiarity with the territory helps, for the dead-eye finishers are the players to rely on. In major international competitions Gary Lineker, David Platt, Alan Shearer, Michael Owen and Teddy Sheringham have taken nine penalties between them and scored them all. No disrespect, but few would have had as much confidence in Southgate, David Batty and Paul Ince.

On that basis three names present themselves: Owen, Sheringham and David Beckham. Then it gets more difficult. Eriksson is believed to have initially identified Paul Scholes and Owen Hargreaves as his other takers. Hargreaves' inclusion, despite his lack of experience and failure to score a senior goal, was a tribute to his temperament. His injury has forced a re-think. Ashley Cole was considered, and may yet be summoned, but it is Rio Ferdinand, though yet to score for England, who is understood to have been given the responsibility. Interestingly, no one expects Emile Heskey, nominally a goalscorer, to step forward.

Come the time, though, and it will depend who is on the pitch and who has the "bottle". Should England have subs to spare, McClaren did not rule out bringing on a recognised penalty-taker such as Robbie Fowler in the last minute.

Who takes the penalty is only half the equation. Someone has to face it. For the goalkeeper shoot-outs are one of the few occasions on which they can only be a hero. But Seaman, having followed his penalty heroics against Sampdoria by being beaten in the final by Nayim from the half-way line, knows there are plenty of occasions on which the goalkeeper is the scapegoat.

Thomas Sorensen, Denmark's keeper, has never been involved in a shoot-out for Denmark but has won one in the Worthington Cup with Sunderland and saved a penalty from Shearer in the last minute of a Tyne-Tees derby. "We've talked about penalties, but I hope it is decided before then," he said. He is not the only one.

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