England turn focus to knockout round and the dreaded penalty shootout
England head into their last 16 clash with Colombia looking to improve on a poor record in knockout games in major tournaments and with half an eye on the risk of a penalty shootout.
Since the Three Lions won the World Cup 52 years ago, they have managed just a paltry six victories in knockout games in major tournaments.
Penalty shootouts have proved to be England’s undoing on several occasions - they lost via penalties at the 1990, 1998 and 2006 World Cups, as well as the 1996, 2004 and 2012 European Championships.
Not surprisingly, manager Gareth Southgate says his team have been working on penalties.
“We’ve been practising and going through strategies on penalties since March. We’ve been doing studies and having individual practice and we’ll go through that in an little more detail now,” he said after Thursday’s final Group G game ended in a 1-0 defeat to Belgium.
“We’re aware the margins are going to be really fine in these knockout phases. We have to be prepared physically and mentally to go to extra time, and beyond if that’s what it takes,” he said.
England’s last win in a tournament knockout game was 12 years ago when they beat Ecuador 1-0 in the World Cup in Germany but then lost the next game on a penalty shootout to Portugal.
Southgate himself has painful memories of shoot out failure as he missed the decisive spot kick in the Euro 96 semi-final against Germany at Wembley Stadium.
He later featured in a pizza commercial that mocked his miss along with Stuart Pearce and Chris Waddle, who missed penalties in the 1990 World Cup semi-final shootout loss to West Germany.
But the England manager later opted against appearing in a documentary about Euro 96, hosted by ex-team mate Alan Shearer, because he did not want to talk about his miss.
England’s failures have become a recurring national joke, with acres of newsprint and even academic studies devoted to why their players are found wanting in such situations.
The conclusions have included the speed at which England take penalties - an average 0.28 seconds response time from when the referee blows his whistle - to being trapped in a decades-long cycle of failure.
Statistics suggest that players have an 89 percent chance of scoring if the team’s last two shootouts have been successful. The figure drops to 57 per cent if they have failed, as England almost always have.