Sport comment: England continue to pay the penalty

England Under-21 manager Aidy Boothroyd
England Under-21 manager Aidy Boothroyd
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NOT again.

This was the feeling of those willing England to victory against old rivals Germany in Tuesday’s Under-21 European Championships semi-final in Poland.

Guts, determination and that classic English fighting spirit were shown as the young Lions recovered from trailing to Davie Selke’s strike after 35 minutes to then lead shortly after the break.

But, alas, another English trait helped decide the game – losing on penalties – and England’s record on spot-kicks really is as bad as you might think.

Such heartbreaking defeats seem commonplace, with Tuesday’s loss the eighth time in 28 years that the English national side or Under-21s have been dumped from a major competition in a shootout.

Despite plenty of practice, England are firmly in a rut when it comes to overcoming the psychological failures of their predecessors.

The most famous part of this nightmare run came in the 1990 World Cup in Italy – penalty shootouts at major international competitions having only started at the 1976 European Championships 14 years before.

There were very few shoot-outs before the Italia 90 World Cup, which featured four of them and the start of England’s pain as Stuart Pearce and Chris Waddle failed to score from 12 yards. Since then, England have crashed out of Euro 96 (to Germany), World Cup 1998 (to Argentina), Euro 2004 (to Portugal), World Cup 2006 (to Portugal again) and Euro 2012 (to Italy) while the Under-21s have gone spinning out of Euro 2007 (to Holland) and now Euro 2017 to Germany.

England or the Under-21s have won three shootouts in that time, against Spain at Euro 96 and with the Under-21s beating Sweden in the Euro 2009 semi-finals as well as Mexico at the 1993 FIFA World Youth Championships.

Focusing on the senior side, England’s record on penalties is the worst of any European nation when it comes to World Cups or the Euros and, globally, there are only a handful of nations that are worse when including other tournaments, namely Bhutan, Chile, Ecuador, Gabon, Jordan, Libya, Madagascar, Martinique, Mauritius, Peru, Qatar, Romania, Senegal, Somalia, South Vietnam, Switzerland, Uzbekistan and Yugoslavia.

In fairness to most of those nations, the vast majority have only had one attempt at a shoot-out, while Jordan, Madagascar and Romania have lost two from two and Zimbabwe, threatening to take England’s ‘crown’, with three losses from three.

A grim record if ever there was one and the million-dollar question is: What can be done to solve these spot-kick woes?

More practice is the obvious answer, but Under-21 chief Aidy Boothroyd, right, insisted there had been no lack of preparation by his current side. Nor should there have been given the horrendous record.

“We have practised and practised and practised penalties,” said Boothroyd.

On the other hand, Germany goalkeeper Julian Pollersbeck hinted that his own side’s penalty preparations had been more relaxed. Perhaps that is key.

“In general, I did not prepare a lot,” he said. “I loved it that we went to penalties.”

But perhaps therein lies the problem – and maybe psychological help is just as important as the actual practice from 12 yards out.

Every Three Lions player – young or old – will be aware of the national side’s abysmal record on spot-kicks and it is difficult to imagine that not playing on the mind.

The tension of a game being decided on them is a different beast to converting from 12 yards out in training, especially given the huge albatross around the English neck.

But how much ‘psychological’ practice can you really do? Would it really make any difference? Asked why England teams struggle with spot-kicks, Boothroyd said: “I have no idea. We’ve looked at good practice, bad practice, the speed penalties are taken at – we’ve gone through it all.

“In the end, their goalkeeper made two good saves from guys who usually put them in with their eyes closed.”

Tammy Abraham and Nathan Redmond were the 2017 fall guys to see their spot-kicks missed or saved.

They joined Justin Hoyte, Nigel Reo-Coker, Matt Derbyshire and Anton Ferdinand as fellow Under-21s to have missed from 12 yards and senior players Ashley Cole, Ashley Young, Frank Lampard, Stephen Gerrard, Jamie Carragher, David Beckham, Darius Vassell, Paul Ince, David Batty, Gareth Southgate, Chris Waddle and Stuart Pearce of the seniors.

The latter trio all came together to mock Southgate’s miss for a Pizza Hut advert in 1996 and there are no shortage of candidates if the pizza company feel like doing another one any time soon.

Like it or lump it, until the mystery is solved and the cycle is broken, the nation will not be surprised to see more spot-kick woes on the horizon.