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Inside England’s perfect penalty shootout against Switzerland that was six years in the making and result of master plan

ENGLAND’S perfect penalty shootout has been six years in the making.

The five takers and keeper Jordan Pickford are the heroes, but there has been an immense amount of work behind their success.

England produced the perfect penalty shoot-out against Switzerland
AP
Cole Palmer got the Three Lions off to the perfect start in the shoot-out
Getty

From bottles to breathing and buddies, England covered everything.

Gareth Southgate‘s eye for detail is famed and touches every aspect of tournament football with the Three Lions.

But he and his team went above and beyond to overcome the greatest of English hurdles.

In 2018, a five-man penalty project team was established, including Chris Markham – the then game insights lead for The FA.

Markham reached out to Geir Jordet – a Norwegian sports psychologist who is a leading expert on spot kicks, dubbed ‘The Penalty Professor’.

Markham and his team had read Jordet’s comprehensive book, Pressure: Lessons from the psychology of the penalty shootout, and were keen to pick his brains.

Jordet’s influence on England’s development from there has been at arm’s length – he has not talked with Southgate – but the signs that they have learned from him were all over Saturday’s nights shootout.

He told SunSport: “I was very impressed that they started this project back in 2018.

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Jude Bellingham calmly slotted home England’s second spot kick[/caption]
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Bukayo Saka brilliantly dispatched his penalty[/caption]

Penalty shoot-outs are not a lottery

By Charlie Wyett

After England beat Colombia on penalties at the 2018 World Cup, one of the first people that Southgate texted was the FA’s game insights lead, Chris Markham, to thank him for all his efforts.

In Geir Jordet’s book – Pressure: Lessons from the psychology of the penalty shoot-out, Markham said: “I think I found quotes from each of the last five England managers before Gareth Southgate, not including Sam Allardyce, that said either the penalty shoot-out was a lottery, penalties are all down to luck, or that you can’t practise that kind of pressure.

“From a psychological perspective, speaking about a lottery takes ownership away from the players. And that was the thing for me to give them back.

“To take control of not just the kick itself but the whole process.

“Initially it was about the perceived control. How can we increase the level of perceived control for the players and the staff and everybody?

“Luckily for us, Gareth and his staff were extremely open-minded and respectful of good quality work. But they don’t suffer fools gladly so we knew it had to be at a really high standard.

“Talking about run-up steps, angle, pace, you know everything from breathing techniques, optimal areas of aiming, goalkeepers, looking at gaze masks and goggles.

“I went into Gareth’s office, we basically printed out and cut into bits of paper all the different topics and Gareth then prioritised, literally on the floor and table, which ones he thought were important and which ones he thought were less of a priority.”

“That they took those steps to gain control over a part of the game that, not just the English but the English maybe more than others, have not really embraced before.

“What they did back then, I’m incredibly impressed. Because that is still to this day the most rigorous penalty preparation that I have ever seen anyone do.”


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England’s penalty heartbreak is incredibly well documented and scarred onto the mind of every fan, player and coach.

Defeating that history requires control.

Slowing things down controlled momentum

There is little players can do about nerves and pressure – they will always be there in a shootout, but controlling that small moment is key.

The way England did that was time.

Whether it be Pickford dragging out the time Manuel Akanji, who saw the first Swiss penalty saved, stood over the ball or the takers making Yann Sommer wait, going through their own individual routine and run-up to feel as comfortable as possible.

Jordet said: “A penalty shootout is about control.

“It’s about controlling the situation which essentially means controlling the other person and it’s about controlling yourself.”

The ideal way to obtain control, according to Jordet’s research, is taking your time before striking the ball.

He added: “It often is an indication of a team or a player doing something deliberate to control themselves at the moment.”

Ivan Toney maintained his superb penalty record all while not looking at the ball
Rex
Trent Alexander-Arnold lashed in the winning spot kick to send England through
Getty

On average, the England players took 5.2 seconds from the whistle to taking their shot. Switzerland took just 1.3 seconds.

When it came to stopping the crucial kick from Akanji, Pickford strolled to the corner, apologised for his delay and stretched out every second.

Jordet added: “What Pickford showed particularly leading up to the Akanji penalty was a very smart move.

“This was all part of his plan.

“He had him wait for 14 seconds. This is one of the most consistent findings in my data on goalkeeper involvement.

“If goalkeepers are able to stall or delay so that penalty takers have to stand in that position and wait eight or more seconds then these players score on just 44 per cent of their kicks.”

Jude Bellingham, one of the five successful scorers, referenced the plan and process when speaking afterwards as being key to the success.

Jordet said: “Overall we saw penalty takers who had a very structured pre-shot routine.

Jordan Pickford yet again produced a save in a crucial penalty shoot-out for England
Getty
He made Akanji wait before saving the Manchester City man’s spot kick
EPA

England’s penalty shootout record

THE dreaded penalty shootout.

England’s nemesis at no fewer than SEVEN major tournaments since 1990, from the West Germany heartache at Italia 90 to Wembley woes on the brink of Euro 2020 final glory.

But two shootout victories before the Italy defeat give some reason for optimism…

  • 1990 World Cup semi-final vs WEST GERMANY, 04/07/1990 – LOST 4-3
  • Euro 1996 quarter-final vs SPAIN, 22/06/1996 – WON 4-2
  • Euro 1996 semi-final vs WEST GERMANY, 26/06/1996 – LOST 6-5
  • Friendly vs BELGIUM, 29/05/1998 – LOST 4-3
  • 1998 World Cup last 16 vs ARGENTINA, 30/06/1998 – LOST 4-3
  • Euro 2004 quarter-final vs PORTUGAL, 24/06/2004 – LOST 6-5
  • 2006 World Cup quarter-final vs PORTUGAL, 01/07/2006 – LOST 3-1
  • Euro 2012 quarter-final vs ITALY, 24/06/2012 – LOST 4-2
  • 2018 World Cup last 16 vs COLOMBIA, 03/07/2018 – WON 4-3
  • vs SWITZERLAND – Nations League third-place play-off, 09/06/2019 – WON 6-5
  • Euro 2020 final vs ITALY, 11/07/2021 – LOST 3-2
  • OVERALL: Played 11, Won 3, Lost 8

“This is never a guarantee. You can miss and have a perfect set-up and a routine.

“But we know from decades of research in sports psychology that having a well-rehearsed routine where you know exactly what to do leading up to your shot.”

‘Buddy system’ formed after past heartbreaks

England have not only learned from Jordet but their own mistakes.

Southgate sent on his selected takers earlier in extra time to get a feel for the game before the big moment – as opposed to the last minute changes in 2021, when Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford went on at the last second and England lost to Italy.

After each of Bukayo Saka, Sancho and Rashford missed they walked back alone – another thing England addressed.

A buddy system was introduced. Each of those standing on the halfway line who were not taking a spot kick was paired with a taker, told to march out and greet them if needed.

Jordet said: “I love that. Because that means, we make mistakes but they learn from it, recover from it, and come back and do better.

“That’s a very nice innovation that they came up with, which was brilliant.”

The penalty expert also praised Cole Palmer for stepping up and filling the boots of Harry Kane, making it “maybe the highest pressure penalty of them all”.

He added: “Bellingham is just beautiful to watch. It’s very deliberate the way he walks back and takes a step to the side.

“Saka, you can tell that he’s nervous in his face, of course, who wouldn’t be?

“But still he falls back on the routine. Despite the anxiety which will be going through him, he’s able to execute what he plans to do.
“And Toney, what a beautiful penalty.”

Ivan Toney, who practices penalties from 13 yards in training, is the one he really wants to talk about.

That technique, of staring down the keeper and not looking at the ball, is only used by the very best.

Jordet explained: “Does not looking add pressure? Yeah, but that’s one of the reasons why this style is so beautiful.

“I mean, can people imagine the pressure of taking a No4 penalty kick for England in the Euros quarter-final and you kick the ball without watching it?

“It’s just such an insane concept to not look at the ball.

“I have so much admiration for players who do this technique.

“Toney is one in a growing group of players who resort to this technique because they just discovered that sacrificing some, let’s call it short-term discomfort in the sense that they don’t look at the ball, will still give them that ultimate outcome.

“It’s a technique that requires very high proficiency to execute.

“That’s part of the beauty, of course, that this is trained over years and then it looks simple at the end.”

Southgate changed his system... now he has to change the players if England are going to win Euros, writes Charlie Wyett

GARETH SOUTHGATE changed the system… but he now needs to start switching his players, writes Charlie Wyett.

And that not only means for his starting XI for the semi-final in Dortmund on Wednesday, but also during the match itself.

Not for the first time, Southgate nearly paid the price for his bloody-minded refusal to react with substitutions and you have to wonder if he is ever going to learn.

Probably not.

At least the England manager reverted to a three-man defence which served him well at the World Cup in 2018 and, on occasions, during Euro 2020.

Kyle Walker, John Stones and Ezri Konsa generally did well at the back with Kieran Trippier and Bukayo Saka the wing-backs.

But England still had a complete lack of balance as they had Trippier, a right-footer on the left, and Saka, a left-footer on the right.

It really made no sense whatsoever. Southgate will have his reasons but it was still a case of putting a square peg into a round hole.

Although Saka was England’s most dangerous player for long periods, not for the first time, playing Trippier on the left simply did not work.

And this is why Luke Shaw, if fit, simply HAS to start the next game.

England are through by the skin of their teeth and maybe their name is written on the trophy.

Southgate is actually England’s second most successful manager behind Alf Ramsey although today, it still does not feel like it.

In his eight years as manager his England team have won eight tournament knockout games, compared to six in half a century before him.

This is the most sustained period of success in the history of the men’s England football team.

Ultimately, though, Southgate will only be celebrated as a true success if England – despite being rubbish for most of this tournament – come home with the trophy.

Read all of Charlie Wyett’s Euro 2024 articles.

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