England should be considered favourites if their Euro 2020 game with Germany goes down to penalties, an expert on spot-kicks has said.
Journalist Ben Lyttleton conducted two years of research for his 2014 book Twelve Yards: The Art and Psychology of the Perfect Penalty Kick, interviewing psychologists, sports scientists and athletes about the conditions behind some of the most memorable successes and failures in shootouts.
The idea was inspired by the Three Lions’ successive defeats in tournament penalty showdowns, including two losses to the Germans.
Since it was published, however, England have won their last two head-to-head shootouts – something Lyttleton believes is down to manager Gareth Southgate and the learnings from his own “penalty trauma” at Euro 96.
Lyttleton said Southgate had clearly “set about to turn the narrative” after becoming England boss, by using a three-word mantra: “Own the shootout”.
This far more serious approach to spot-kicks included far greater practice of penalties, including mimicking the circumstances by encouraging them to take them while tired and in some cases telling them where to place their shots, based on prior analysis.
He added: “The other thing that Southgate got the players doing was practising the walk – it seems really obvious, but this did not happen in the past. So they would practice the walk from the centre circle to the spot.
“Many players have said it’s a really scary moment… if no one’s ever done that before, and you do that, for the first time, with a whole world watching and the nation’s hopes on your shoulders, it’s no surprise that you might fail to execute your best penalty kick in that situation without any practice.”
Lyttleton said the marked improvement in England’s victorious shootouts against Colombia and Switzerland gave him confidence that they were now better prepared than the side which knocked them out from the spot in both Italia 90 and Euro 96.
“These are clear lessons that are getting through to the players focus on your breathing, take your time, and practice with purpose,” he said.
“England have spent an enormous amount of time and effort in overturning this narrative and finding solutions to what was clearly a problem.
“It leads me to think that if we do come to a shootout against Germany on Tuesday or later in the tournament, if we’re there, there is nothing to fear anymore.
“Southgate has rid England of this fear of penalties. In fact, if England go into a penalty shootout now against Germany, I would put England as favourites.”
He said he believed Southgate would already have communicated his first-choice penalty takers to the squad, and is likely to even have a full order of 11 selected, depending on who’s on the pitch.
“In the past England players have admitted they’ve spent all of extra-time worrying about that penalty kick,” he added.
“Now that has two negative effects: one, they’re going to be less effective in extra-time, because they’re worrying about something else. And two, they’re going to be less effective at the penalty kick because they’ve spent 40 minutes worrying about it.
“So if you know already, what you’re going to do, where you’re going to kick it, the order you’re going to take it in, you’re more likely to execute that task to perform under pressure.”
Asked to choose his own top five takers, Lyttleton went for players who had all scored in prior shootouts for England.
In order, those were: Harry Kane, Harry Maguire, Raheem Sterling, Keiran Trippier and Marcus Rashford.