They are England’s nemesis: but will these five players be able to stand the pressure and finally win England a penalty shoot-out?
It’s a list that makes painful reading for any England fan.
1990 v West Germany, World Cup semi-final - lost 4-3
1996 v Spain, European Championships quarter-final - won 4-2
1996 v Germany, European Championships semi-final - lost 6-5
1998 v Argentina, World Cup second round - lost 4-3
2004 v Portugal, European Championships quarter-final - lost 6-5
2006 v Portugal, World Cup quarter-final - lost 3-1
2012 v Italy, European Championships quarter-final - lost 4-2
That’s right, England have lost six of their seven penalty shoot-outs in major tournaments, and have exited half of the last twelve major tournaments they’ve qualified for via the dreaded method of spot-kicks.
It’s become a source of constant anguish for successive England managers: how to break the hoodoo that seems to affect England more than any other international team. In the shoot-out’s infancy, England famously didn’t even select penalty-takers in advance, preferring to wait until the actual moment before asking for volunteers, and only latterly adopting any methods to try and improve their chances.
However, it seems that Gareth Southgate, fresh from leading England through a relatively stress-free Group stage at the World Cup, has given the issue plenty of thought - perhaps not surprising when it was his famous penalty that saw England exit Euro ‘96. Southgate, of course, had only ever taken one penalty in his career before that moment - and he missed that too.
The Mirror has revealed that Southgate’s ideal first five to take penalties, in order, is: Harry Kane, Kieran Trippier, Jordan Henderson, Jamie Vardy and Dele Alli. Clearly, there’s something in the water at Spurs, with three representatives from the London team in that list.
However, if those are indeed Southgate’s picks, no one seems to have told Ashley Young, who said in a press conference that he would take a penalty in a shoot-out, despite missing one in England’s 2012 defeat to Italy.
FA technical director Dan Ashworth also revealed Southgate and his team have carried out a forensic-style scientific study into penalty-taking psychology, with a team breaking the whole process down into its component parts, including the walk to the spot, and the reactions after scoring.
Ashworth said: “We’ve got a research team on it to come back with some interesting findings. Gareth would joke that he’s hardly the man to lead it. But actually he is. He’s very insightful and very detailed in his thought processes. I’m not going to give you any secrets but you can break the penalty shoot-out down.
“When the whistle goes, you’ve got a couple of minutes to prepare, so how do you do that? Where do you do that on the pitch? Who’s involved? Where do you stand as a team during the shoot-out? From where do you begin the walk? Then, when the whistle goes. There’s been a little bit of research done to show that English players are quick to the ball when the whistle goes.
“When the referee’s whistle goes, you’ve got as long as you want to take the penalty. As a nation over the years, we’ve been a bit quick. You look at the other nations, they take a bit more time. There are some interesting patterns.”
Meanwhile, Alli has confirmed that he wants to be one of the first five penalty takers, should it come down to it:
“You have to try and control every situation. You have to own it. I want to help the team. I’m confident in myself, and what’s meant to be will be. I have to work hard on the penalties, and we have been. We’ve been trying to own the situation, not let it own us. We’ve been looking into various things. We’re confident and looking to change things. Everyone wants to step up and help the team if we can. If I’m on the pitch, I want to take one. I’ll ask to try and take one. We’ve practised a lot on the training field. Everyone has been, not just those who want to take them. We’ve been trying to make it as realistic as we can - and it’s been good.”
Let’s hope England can triumph in normal, or extra-time, but maybe, just maybe, it could be time to break the shoot-out curse once and for all in Russia.