Practice makes perfect as England seal Nations League bronze

Gareth Southgate was delighted to see England’s penalty shoot-out preparations bear fruit again, with the Three Lions boss taking Nations League bronze as a welcome acknowledgement of the progress being made.

England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford scores a penalty during the shootout in Guimaraes. Picture: Tim Goode/PA

An unremarkable third-place play-off against Switzerland came to a stirring conclusion at the Estadio D Afonso Henriques, where England’s glut of missed opportunities threatened to haunt them as the match ended 0-0 after 120 minutes.

But a year on from ending a run of five successive shoot-out losses at the World Cup in Russia, the man that helped Southgate’s men overcome Colombia on penalties was on hand once more.

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Jordan Pickford denied Josip Drmic’s spot-kick in sudden death to seal a 6-5 win, having become the first goalkeeper to score a penalty for England in a competitive shoot-out.

HERO OF THE HOUR: Jordan Pickford of England saves the decisive penalty from Josip Drmic in Guimaraes. Picture: Jan Kruger/Getty Images

“We weren’t against him taking one last summer,” Southgate said.

“But it was just that others had probably shown just a slightly better level, but he would be amongst our better takers.

“I think a lot of goalkeepers have very good technique. They practise that sort of technique regularly, but, of course, you know that if it goes against you as a coach, you’ll get it in the neck so it was pleasing to see him execute it.

“We’ve prepared well for that eventuality and we’ve talked to the players about it.

England players celebrate after winning the penalty shootout in Guimaraes. Picture: Tim Goode/PA

“The first group who arrived three weeks ago have been drilled and we knew in a competition like this that we could be in that situation again.

“It’s obviously lovely for all of the staff when all of that hard work comes to fruition.”

Ending with a victory was a welcome shot in the arm three days after the semi-final loss to Holland.

But there was no fanfare like the Three Lions witnessed after their third-place play-off loss to Belgium in Russia as UEFA went for a private handover, with a bag of medals waiting for them off the pitch.

“I’ve not seen them yet,” Southgate said.

“It’s quite ironic, really. We’ve had to go through another third/fourth play-off and the one we win we don’t even get them in front of the fans. It’s just lobbed to us.

“I remember some of the guys that were at Liverpool that I played with who said that Joe Fagan used to throw the medals down the back of the bus at the following pre-season and say, ‘get on with it and if you’ve played enough games, take one’.

“That probably would pretty much sum up where we’d be at with this.

“The only other medals like this we’ve been involved with was the Tournoi in Glenn Hoddle’s time.

“It’s nice that we’ve got at least some acknowledgement for what we’ve done over the last year, but I think we’ll all be parking it to one side and looking forward.”

Switzerland counterpart Vladimir Petkovic admits his side did not really practice for a penalty shoot-out and had few arguments about the result.

“It wasn’t an easy game for us,” he said.

“It was a game where we started off well, had a few chances.

“But England was better in the first half and all-in-all I’d say that we showed a solid performance. We faced a team that had greater possession and sometimes you just have to leave the ball to them.

“I need to congratulate England on that third place they achieved and maybe next time we will have to practice penalties a little more.”

Portugal beat Holland in last night’s final, Goncalo Guedes scoring the only goal of the game.

The final in Porto was settled by Valencia forward Guedes on the hour mark, as the reigning European champions won the inaugural Nations League crown.