It was alarming to read in The Times last week that England coach Roy Hodgson “loathes the subject of penalty shoot-outs being raised”. It’s baffling to know why: part of his job as national team coach is to help rid the team of its clear complex from spot-kicks. He should know, given the last time England played a knock-out match, he was in the dug-out watching Italy beat England from 12 yards in the Euro 2012 quarter-final.
Four years later, the spectre of penalties looms again. It would have been worse had Portugal been England’s opponents on Monday, given their spot-kick success in 2004 and 2006, but word from the Iceland camp on Thursday, that the team would be playing for penalties, will surely have the desired effect on their opponents. Dread.
Bodvarsson - Iceland v Austria - Euro 2016
Image credit: AFP
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Captain Wayne Rooney was asked about penalties, inevitably, in his press conference. He said that the players had been practising them after every training-session, but not that they had been practising the walk from the centre-circle to the spot (they did the same in 2006, standing on the edge of the area waiting for a kick, and lost that shoot-out 3-1 to Portugal). He added that no England player had, to his knowledge, lost a shoot-out before. This is not quite right, as we shall see.
The question for Hodgson, if he can bear to think about it, is which five players he should put forward to take spot-kicks if the situation demands it. He has attacking riches aplenty in his squad, but it’s unlikely that Harry Kane, Jamie Vardy, and Daniel Sturridge will all be on the pitch at the same time come the end of extra-time. So how should he decide who should take spot-kicks?
Below is a list of players, provided by STATS.com, who have taken penalties in the Premier League in the last three seasons, and their records:
Harry Kane would be an obvious contender, even though he missed from the spot in the pre-tournament friendly against Turkey. Vardy’s one penalty miss came against Everton, after Leicester had clinched the title. And Rooney’s rocky record from the spot has settled down in recent years as he has changed his technique to Goalkeeper-Independent, picking his spot and hitting it as hard as he can there.
Those three players would be obvious contenders but what about the others? James Milner is a solid bet but might not be on the pitch. Sturridge is an interesting case: he would back himself to score, but might suffer from over-confidence; he missed his last penalty against Everton, back in 2014, and also missed Team GB’s decisive spot-kick in the Olympics defeat in 2012. He did not take one in Liverpool’s recent League Cup loss to Manchester City.
Hodgson may want to select the top three on that list and then two more from Eric Dier, Dele Alli, Adam Lallana and James Milner, depending on who is on the pitch. Given the concerns over Raheem Sterling’s state of mind after he was criticised in the aftermath of the Slovenia game, the Manchester City winger would be a risky choice.
Lallana is the outlier in the England camp; the only player to miss penalties in a shoot-out in the last three years. He has actually taken part in more shoot-outs than any other player, five in all. He has scored four penalties and missed two. He took two in the epic 14-13 League Cup win over Middlesbrough and scored both.
He missed against Carlisle, in a shoot-out that Liverpool won, but scored in the semi-final against Stoke. When the final went to spot-kicks, Lallana had his effort saved by Willy Caballero. Will that negative memory impact his mind-set if he needs to take a penalty in France on Monday?
Here are the English players, again with thanks to STATS.com, with experience of shoot-outs in the last three years.
Once again, Milner appears on the list as Mr. Dependable with two penalties from two games. He did not take one against City, but was thought to be number five on the list.
Gylfi Sigurdsson is the obvious star of the Iceland team, but hasn’t been his team’s regular taker since he was at Hoffenheim in 2011. At Swansea he was behind Wilfried Bony in the pecking-order and at Spurs behind Roberto Soldado. He scored three spot-kicks for Swansea this season but has also scored four penalties for Iceland in his last 11 appearances. Alfred Finbogasson has scored each one of his last 11 penalties, including 10 in a row for Heerenveen in 2013-14.
It may not come to it and Hodgson may be in denial about the prospect of penalties; but the England coach would do well to consider the possibility, and develop a strategy to get the right players kicking in the right order. He said after the Italy loss in 2012 that you cannot recreate the conditions of a shoot-out. He’s had four years to think about it since then. Let’s hope his attitude has changed.
Ben Lyttleton’s updated version of Twelve Yards: The Art & Psychology of the Perfect Penalty (Bantam Press) is out now
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