Southgate mastermind behind shootout victory

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MOSCOW — Everyone seems to know the score; we’ve seen it all before. Or so we thought.

For once — for the first time in five attempts since 1996, in fact — England have negotiated the metaphorical minefield of a penalty shootout and come out in one piece.

In the most unpredictable, crazy, memorable, enjoyable World Cup in living memory, we can now add another remarkable chapter: The one that tells us England won on penalties, defeating Colombia 4-3 in Moscow to book a place in the quarterfinals of Russia 2018.

England have actually triumphed in a shootout before, but you have to go all the way back to Euro 96 when, with Stuart Pearce’s passion to the fore, they defeated Spain in a quarterfinal at Wembley. But the truth is that that success tends to be overlooked, given what went before and has come since. Until Tuesday.

Italia ’90 saw West Germany prevail in the World Cup semifinals. Six years later and just four days after the Spain game, England’s old rivals repeated the trick. There followed defeats to Argentina at the 1998 World Cup in France, as well as Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal at Euro 2004 and in the World Cup two years later and, most recently, Italy at Euro 2012.

The English players to have missed penalties are not really part of any exclusive club. In the early days, the likes of Pearce, Chris Waddle and current manager Gareth Southgate rehabilitated in terms of public affection by teaming up to advertise pizza in TV commercials that played on their misfortune from 12 yards.

Over the years, even the biggest names have turned to jelly in shootouts. For example, check out David Beckham’s miss against Portugal in a Euro 2004 quarterfinal for evidence; that one went so high and wide that it almost cleared the roof of the stand.

There have been so many missed penalties by players wearing England shirts that shootouts have begun to traumatise the nation. They had become the elephant in the room, with news conferences at major tournaments rarely passing by without the “Have you practised penalties?” question being asked, sometimes during the group stage!

But Southgate has helped change the narrative. Having failed against the Germans in 1996, he knows the pain of missing and is perhaps the first England manager to dispel the notion that shootouts are a lottery, realising instead that practice and repetition can lead to improvement and success.

“We practised and practised and it paid off,” Kieran Trippier, one of the successful penalty takers on Tuesday, said. “Pick a spot and in training I was always going to put it in the same place. I keep going on about the spirit of the team. We carried on, we believed and, in the shootout, we have some great takers.”

That sense of belief meant that Jordan Henderson, who became the 13th England player to not convert from 12 yards in such a game-deciding situation, was not the unlucky man this time. But the Liverpool man needed an assist from a namesake, who plays across Stanley Park at Everton.

Jordan Pickford’s lack of height has led to concerns over his goalkeeping ability at the highest level, but he was England’s hero with a save from Carlos Bacca. The Everton No. 1 admitted that it was not by chance that he made the crucial block.

“I did all my research,” Pickford said. “I’ve got power and agility. I don’t care if I’m not the biggest keeper because it’s about being there in the moment and making the save and I was. It’s all about the set position and I got a hand to it.”

When, with the next kick, Eric Dier slotted away the winning penalty, it felt like a cathartic moment, and England can look ahead to the quarterfinal against Sweden in Samara on Saturday having lifted their penalty curse.


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Typical of Southgate, he made sure the postgame narrative was about his successful players rather than his own personal penalty demons being exorcised.

He has borne that scar well but admitted after this game that the experience “will never be off my back, it will live with me forever” and one can only imagine how he felt in Spartak Stadium when American referee Mark Geiger blew his whistle at the end of 120 minutes.

“If you could choose a way to win, that would be it, but you wouldn’t choose the process,” Southgate said. “Our list of five takers altered because of the changes we made but we had some young players, who showed resilience under pressure.

“We have practiced enough, we have been through a process and we were in control of that,” England’s manager continued. “I felt so confident in the players, even after the first one was saved, because we knew we would save one of theirs.”

Thanks to Southgate’s insistence that practice matters, England have belief under such pressure and they reaped the rewards in Moscow.

This was more than a penalty shootout victory. Much more.

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