England practice penalties for Euro 2012 showdown with Italy
England have an appalling success rate in penalty shoot-outs but at least they aren't playing the Germans
ROY HODGSON is leaving nothing to chance. Despite the fact that Lady Luck appears to be in England's dressing room so far in Euro 2012, the boss of the Three Lions knows that Sunday's quarter-final clash with Italy could end in a penalty shootout. England's record in the do-or-die spot kick showdown has not been good over the years. In fact, since Uefa adopted the format in 1970, England have the worst success rate of all major football nations, winning just 17 per cent of their shootouts.
Four of Hodgson's predecessors - Bobby Robson, Terry Venables, Glenn Hoddle and Sven-Goran Eriksson - have endured purgatory on account of penalties, with Venables in charge when England were knocked out of Euro 96 by Germany in a semi-final shootout. Prior to that, England were bundled out of the 1990 World Cup (also at the semi-final stage) by West Germany when Bobby Robson was boss.
The defeats are seared on the consciousness of Hodgson and for that reason he's been holding regular penalty practice sessions for his squad over the past fortnight. "We have used the time after training sessions to regularly practise," Hodgson said. "We'll obviously take it even more seriously now. But you can practise penalty shoot-outs until the cows come home. It's really your composure, confidence, ability to block everything out and forget the occasion that means you score or you don't score."
The roll call of Englishmen who have cracked under pressure is long, from Stuart Pearce and Chris Waddle in 1990 to Gareth Southgate in
1996 to Grant Batty in 1998, Darius Vassell in Euro 2004 and Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher in the 2006 World Cup against Portugal.
"Sometimes we've seen the best players miss and the best players you think are not penalty-takers are the ones that smash them in," said Hodgson, who must take some comfort from the fact Chelsea beat Bayern Munich on penalties in last month's Champions League Final.
Asked if he was haunted by England's horrible history when it comes to shootouts, Hodgson said: "When you are working with the England national team, the past is always going to weigh heavily. Everything we do today is compared with something that happened in the past."
At least Hodgson has one man he can count on – Ashley Cole. The Chelsea left-back is Mr Cool when it comes to penalties, converting his spot kick for England in Euro 2004 and the 2006 World Cup, while also hitting the target for Chelsea in the 2008 Champions League Final against Manchester Utd (a match the Blues lost), and against Bayern Munich last month.
For those who believe in omens, England's one penalty shootout win at a major tournament came in the quarter-final of a European Championships. Against Spain at Euro 1996, Stuart Pearce avenged his miss of six years earlier by firing home and sending his side through to the semis. Whereupon they promptly reverted to type and lost to the Germans on penalties.