If you look at England’s history in the World Cup, there is one aspect that never changes: England penalty shootouts. Every England fan alive has experienced the pain of seeing England survive through the extra-time only to be booted out when the penalties come to pass. It’s sad but true. When we hear it’s going to penalties we already know the outcome before we even watch it. We dare to hope… ‘Maybe this time’… but alas, never!
Well, it seems as though Gareth Southgate might be trying to do something about it. He is said to be considering different approaches to the penalty taking process at World Cup 2018… including whether or not the players even practice them.
In total, the England team has exited major tournaments a total of six times because of the dreaded penalty shootout – and that’s just since 1990. It has become known as our Achilles heel and Southgate is right to address it.
Taking Advice from the Young Ones
To find possible solutions, England’s fantastic World Cup-winning Under-17 squad has been testing out different penalty techniques and the players have been able to share their findings. They have been looking at rating the players who are most keen on taking a penalty before the game; whether the players should practice penalties and making sure that the players all have a few ‘go-to’ penalty shots.
In the World Cup, England has lost on penalties three-times – in 1990, 1998 and 2006. As the team prepares for the World Cup 2018 it is trying to ensure that it doesn’t happen for a fourth time. Southgate has insisted “We have already started a couple of projects with the players and with our analysis team on successful and unsuccessful shootouts.”
Furthermore, Matt Crocker, the FA head of coach and player development, who meets with all of the England head coaches, stated that he believed that England’s successful Under-17 team has already seen the benefit from a change in the approach to penalty taking in just five months.
An area that was taken under consideration was based around players who stated they did not want to be practising penalty shootouts every single day. These kinds of ideas from the players are taken on by the head coaches who then meet once every week in order to discuss the issues that arise.
England penalty shootouts is an issue that arises quite often – with the extra strain it puts on players. This is one of the many areas in which the team is looking to improve. Understandably, Gareth Southgate, along with his assistant coach Steve Holland, ensure that they are always present at the meetings and are fully involved in everything that is said and done.
Learning a Lesson
The England Under-17s learned a hard lesson when they played in the European Championship Under-17 final against Spain. The team ended up losing on penalties. This key loss focussed the team’s attention on this area of the game and as a result of the hard work; they beat Japan on penalties when qualifying for the World Cup. This led to overall World Cup victory when they ended up getting revenge and beating Spain in the finals. To reach this success, the team focussed on six key areas of England penalty shootouts:
- The individual player’s approach to practising taking a penalty.
- The psychological effect of penalty taking on each player.
- How the thought of penalties could affect team performance in extra-time.
- Deciding before the game starts who will take the penalties if needed.
- How players take that walk to the spot.
- Having a few ‘go-to’ penalties to choose from.
It isn’t just the head coaches that are kept in the loop at these meetings. All of the Under-17 team players were also consulted about it when they had their team meetings at the National Football Centre at St. George’s Park.
These team meetings cover everything. They decide whether they want to take penalties and then they go about practicing different penalties based on the different opposition goalkeepers and knowing where the previous penalties have gone.
Crocker stated that it wasn’t as simple as players practising every single day; he said that there are some players who simply do not want to practice every day and that they would rather just take it in the game. Every player has different wants and needs and the training needs to be specifically tailored to each player’s style.
Crocker asks players to choose from one through to ten how much they want to take part inn England penalty shootout; one being desperate to take one, ten being – I’m outta here and straight in the dressing room. Players responses varied immensely – some even wanted a number twelve or thirteen!
It’s All about Honesty
Crocker also said that there are four main areas that need to be discussed with regards to penalties:
- What are you thinking about going into extra-time? Some players voiced concern that the idea of going into penalties when nearing the end of extra-time made them so nervous that it affected their game play. Therefore the team needs to find a solution needs to prevent this.
- Having a plan and being organised when the ref blows the final whistle. The responsible coaching staff must be in agreement on who will be taking the penalties – based on the eleven players left on the pitch, and in what order they will take them.
- How you walk to the spot kick. How does it feel as you approach the ball? Do nerves make you rush it? How can you keep the same routine that you would in normal match play?
- How do you actually strike the ball? If this is not your first penalty then you need to have another one to rely on as well so you aren’t predictable for the goalkeeper. All in all, how will you, as a player, manage all the four stages?
This organisation seemed to work well in the qualifying match against Japan. Crocker described how, at the penalty shootout against Japan, the team was well organised as soon as the penalties were happening. However, the Japanese players were still running around not sure who was taking the penalties and what was happening. This was the one game where England has triumphed.
The Future of England Penalties
So, maybe organisation is key. What is sure is that something needs to change in order to make England penalty shootouts go our way. Who knows, maybe this time in four years’ time we’ll have another addition to our ‘England’s Best World Cup Moments’ list – and it may be a penalty shootout success! Top sportsbooks such as 888sport, William Hill and Ladbrokes are always going to give fantastic odds for England winning a penalty shootout – maybe it’s time to put money on it for once.