England penalty practice ‘cannot make perfect’

England manager Roy Hodgson
England manager Roy Hodgson
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England manager Roy Hodgson has admitted the spectre of past penalty shoot-out failures looms large over their Euro 2012 campaign.

The Three Lions head into Sunday’s quarter-final showdown with Italy in Kiev knowing the chances of their future in the competition being decided from the spot have increased rapidly.

Germany’s status as potential last-four opponents immediately triggers memories of heart-breaking exits in Italia 90 and Euro 96.

Portugal also ended any hope of glory at Euro 2004 and the World Cup two years later thanks to England’s failures from the spot, while Argentina condemned them to defeat at the 1998 World Cup in exactly the same manner.

Little wonder there is a phobia about what would happen should this weekend’s quarter-final end in a draw.

“It’s going to be that way because we’ve lost important matches on penalties,” said Hodgson.

“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 (went) before.

“Unfortunately we have lost two very important semi-finals on penalties so I presume that’s going to be there during all my time as national coach. Probably when a national coach comes 20 years hence he will be asked the same question as well.”

A quick look at England’s squad precipitates more cause for concern.

Of those who started Tuesday night’s win over co-hosts Ukraine, only Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney are regular penalty-takers for their clubs and both have had periods where they have found the task somewhat difficult.

In 2004 Gerrard missed a penalty against Fulham that cost Liverpool their place in the Champions League. He also failed to score in the Carling Cup final shoot-out win over Cardiff in February.

And in the middle of last season, Rooney missed with four of eight attempts, although he subsequently converted six in a row.

James Milner scored one for Manchester City last season and, like Ashley Young, netted twice in an epic European Under-21 Championship semi-final encounter with Holland that finished 13-12 to the Dutch.

Little wonder Hodgson has been ensuring England’s players have been practising at their Krakow base, although he has his doubts how meaningful that will be.

“We have used the time after training sessions to regularly practise and we’ll obviously take it even more seriously now,” said Hodgson.

“You hope one day it will make a big difference.

“But you can practise 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 don’t.

“Sometimes we’ve seen the best players miss and the ones you think are not penalty takers are the ones that smash them in.”

Italy heroes Franco Baresi and Roberto Baggio famously missed their kicks in the 1994 World Cup final, allowing Brazil to collect the trophy.

Twelve years later, David Trezeguet was the villain as Italy triumphed at France’s expense.

Hodgson recalls the shoot-out saga frequently has had unhappy endings for him.

“I’ve done it with other clubs in other countries before,” he said, and joked: “I’ve done it with Italians as well, so I’m quite good at it.”

Hodgson has revealed he has taken a unique approach to managing expectation surrounding his England Euro 2012 hopefuls – he has chosen to embrace it.

Hodgson has not come out with the kind of grandiose “we can win it” statements delivered by his predecessors, and even Rooney when he spoke to the media on Sunday.

Instead, he has opted to ride the growing wave of euphoria, believing it reinforces the spirit that has built up within his squad.

It is a novel position. But like so much of what Hodgson has done over the past seven weeks since his appointment as Fabio Capello’s replacement, it seems to be working.

“I don’t mind the expectation getting greater,” he said.

“I am really pleased about it. We have been very buoyed by the news from home and the people we meet here.

“Everyone seems to be becoming an England fan again.

“That is so important for us. If you are a football player or coach, you want people to appreciate you and get behind you, you want people to give you the feeling ‘if I do have a bad game it is not going to be a catastrophe’.

“There is more of that feeling and the players are responding. Long may that continue.”

By welcoming the expectation, Hodgson is ensuring it does not engulf his players.

The task is easier to achieve in Krakow of course.

One of the reasons Poland’s second city was chosen as England’s base was because no matches are being played there.

An evening stroll may be beyond Rooney, who would probably be mobbed if he took a trip to the North Pole.

However, should they so wish, the vast majority of England’s players could wander around Krakow’s magnificent market square without attracting a second glance, especially now Poland are out of the competition.

Hodgson played no part in organising this aspect of the trip, which was put together by Club England managing director Adrian Bevington and rubber-stamped by Capello.

Contrary to initial suggestions, he agrees with it though.

“I would choose to do the same thing as far as our base camp is concerned,” he said.