England manager Gareth Southgate knows all about the pain of missing a crucial kick in a penalty shoot-out and as he sportingly consoled Colombia’s Carlos Bacca on Tuesday night at the Spartak Stadium, the memories couldn’t have been far away.
“It will never be off my back, sadly. That’s something that will live with me forever,” Southgate said after the game when reminded of the Euro 96 semi-final loss to Germany where he missed the crucial kick in the shoot-out.
Southgate was mocked in a pizza advertisement following that defeat but he also learned a valuable lesson that had a huge impact on the World Cup last 16 win over Colombia - the shoot-out is not a ‘lottery’ and it is something you can prepare for.
“When something goes wrong in your life it doesn’t finish you and you should become braver, knowing that you’ve got to go for things in life and don’t regret (that) you didn’t try to be as good as you might be,” said Southgate.
After England secured passage to the knock-out stage, Southgate explained how that mentality had translated into his thinking on penalties.
“I’ve had a couple of decades thinking it through. It’s not about luck. It’s not about chance. It’s about performing a skill under pressure,” he said.
“There are things you can work on, things that can be helpful for the preparation for the players. We have studied it. There is a lot we can do to own the process, and not be controlled by it.”
That mentality and the preparation was evident in the way England dealt with the challenge of the shoot-out.
“I believed our goalkeeper would save one, and the technique of our players in taking them was superb. I have to credit our big support team who have done a lot of work in that area over the last few months,” said Southgate.
England had their list of kickers well prepared in advance but substitutions made during the game forced a change to the list of five kickers with Eric Dier stepping in.
Players had already been evaluated during practice drills and their past performance taken into account, in contrast to previous tournaments, such as in 1998 when David Batty, who had never taken a penalty in a match, missed the decisive fifth kick in a round of 16 loss to Argentina.
Also, as one of the shoot-out scorers Kieran Trippier noted, Southgate made his team practice penalties when they tired at the end of a training session, to simulate the fatigue that is present after extra-time.
Vitally, England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford’s guesswork regarding which way to anticipate a kick was not based on instinct but research.
Pickford guessed the right way for all of Colombia’s kickers - except for Radamel Falcao - and said that was largely due to his work with goalkeeping coach Martyn Margetson and other FA staff.
“We did our research on them, with Margetson and the analysis staff,” Pickford said. “I had a fair feeling. Falcao was really the only one who didn’t go ‘his’ way. But it’s about: set, react and go with power.
“I’ve got power and agility, I don’t care if I’m not the biggest keeper. I’ve got that power and agility to get around the goal. I’m very good at it,” he added. It is hard to believe that none of this was done before by previous coaching staffs, but after the triumph that sent England into the last eight it will surely be standard practice now.
Meanwhile, penalty hero Marcus Rashford trained with England’s back-ups the day after helping Southgate’s men to a memorable win against Colombia.
Rashford was the only player to feature against Colombia to train in the pouring rain at Spartak Zelenogorsk, where he was part of an eight-strong playing group outnumbered by staff.