Gareth Southgate says his team are mentally and physically ready for another penalty shoot-out – and he would not hesitate to ask Marcus Rashford or Bukayo Saka to take a spot-kick at the World Cup.
The national team’s penalty problems down the years are well documented, with all three World Cup shoot-outs ending in defeat before a success at the expense of Colombia in Russia four years ago.
England followed that by winning bronze on spot-kicks at the Nations League finals against Switzerland in 2019, only for penalties to prove their undoing in last year’s European Championship final.
Jadon Sancho, Rashford and Saka failed with their attempts in a heart-breaking loss that Southgate is confident the team have learned from ahead of Sunday’s last-16 clash against Senegal.
“Well, like every other aspect of our game, we’re prepared and we’ve had a process that we’ve followed,” said the England boss, who missed his penalty in the Euro 96 semi-final defeat to Germany.
“We’ve had three shoot-outs, we’ve won two, so inevitably the one that you don’t get over the line you reflect and you think about how you can improve those processes.
“We’ve done that over the last few months, in particular, but of course, there is so many other aspects to the game that we’ve got to get right.
“We’re aiming to win the game and to avoid extra-time if you can, and to avoid penalties if you can, because you’d like to get a victory in 90 minutes.
“But if we need to go 120 minutes, if we need to go beyond that, then we’ve got to be ready for that mentally and physically. And I believe we are.”
Sancho, Rashford and Saka were subjected to sickening racist abuse after their misses last year.
Rashford and Saka are in Qatar with England and Southgate would have no hesitation calling on them if the Senegal match goes down to the wire.
“None at all,” he said. “Marcus’ stats would be among the best in the world, really, on penalty taking.
“And Bukayo is now taking them more regularly with his club. They’re both in a good space with that.
“In terms of the changes, Marcus came on as a sub in Moscow and took a penalty four or five minutes earlier than we put him on at Wembley.
“I’ve seen lots of team do that and scored, and it’s the right thing. If you don’t, then it’s the wrong thing.
“We’ve got to stick with our processes, give ourselves the best percentages of winning, and we feel we are very well prepared.
“We’ve won two, we’ve lost the last one. We’ve refined some of those things we didn’t think were quite right. We feel that the process is good.”
Southgate said penalty takers would depend on who is on the pitch at the time at a World Cup where England have used a skills net to practice hitting the corners.
Technique and mindset are key in striking a spot-kick, as well as saving them.
Jordan Pickford saved a spot-kick against Colombia in Moscow in 2018 and Switzerland the following year, before saving two of Italy’s efforts last summer.
“There was Paul Cooper,” said Southgate, mentioning the former Ipswich shot-stopper when asked if has ever known anyone as good at saving penalties.
“We were watching his technique the other day – it was bizarre, looking back at it.
“He’s been exceptional in the shoot-outs we’ve had and that also gives you confidence.
“You know that he’s highly likely to save at least one, if not more. When your goalkeeper can do that, it’s a huge boost to the rest of the team.
“I don’t know if he is statistically better or worse than others, but he definitely has been excellent in the shoot-outs that we’ve had.”
Pickford arrived in Qatar after a promising start to the season with Everton, where his form has been pored over in great detail since he claimed the number one jersey in 2018.
“Sometimes the biggest thing is dealing with being the England number one,” Southgate said. “That comes with a different level of scrutiny.
“He’s dealt with that impeccably, really. He’s stood up in the big games, he’s shown consistency in his performances, and he’s been able to handle that really well.”