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England polish penalties to ward off Spain pain

Rob Woollard

England will step up their penalty-taking practice as they enter the Euro 2012 knockout rounds desperate to atone for repeated failures in shoot-outs.

England will step up their penalty-taking practice as they enter the Euro 2012 knockout rounds desperate to atone for repeated failures in shoot-outs. (Alex Livesey, Getty Images)
Roy Hodgson’s side face Italy in the quarterfinals in Kiev on Sunday haunted by the knowledge that England have won only one penalty shoot-out – against Spain in 1996 – while losing on five other occasions.
 
The England manager said that while the unique pressures of a shoot-out can never be replicated in training, he plans to devote more attention to the issue ahead of Sunday’s meeting with the Azzurri at the Olympic Stadium.
 
“We have practiced already, we have used the time after training sessions to regularly practice some of those,” Hodgson said.
 
“We’ll obviously take it even more seriously now. But you can practice penalty shoot-outs until the cows come home – it’s really your composure, your confidence, your ability to really block everything out and forget the occasion that means you score or you don’t score.
 
“But having said that, you do practice them and you do hope one day it will make a big difference but in my experience in penalty shootouts it’s really the composure, the confidence and strength of mind of the individual ... Sometimes we’ve seen the best players miss and the players you think are not penalty takers they are the ones that smash them in.”
 
Fall guys
In 1990, Chris Waddle and Stuart Pearce were the fall guys as England lost a World Cup semifinal to West Germany in a shoot-out.
 
The Germans prevailed in the same stage of Euro 1996 at Wembley when Gareth Southgate missed, and two years later England exited the 1998 World Cup to Argentina on spot-kicks.
 
Back-to-back shoot-out failures against Portugal at Euro 2004 and the 2006 World Cup came to define the Sven-Goran Eriksson era, with the Swedish coach as perplexed as anyone by the mental block which had thwarted his team’s progress.
 
“We practised penalties so much, I really don’t know what more we could do about it,” was Eriksson’s baffled response after Portugal knocked England out of the 2006 World Cup.
 
Hodgson is resigned to the fact that until England win a shoot-out, the national team will always be struggling to shrug off the weight of history, agreeing with the suggestion it had become a “national phobia.”
 
“Well it’s because we’ve lost important matches on penalties so it’s going to be that way,” Hodgson reflected.
 
“When you are working with the England national team the past is always going to weigh heavily because everything we do today is being compared with something that happened in the past ... That’s where we are and unfortunately we have lost two very, very important semi-finals on penalties so I presume that’s going to be there during all my time as national coach and probably when a national coach comes 20 years hence he will be asked the same question as well.” – AFP

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