Fabio Capello has decided who his penalty takers will be for a potential shoot-out in Sunday's second-round match against Germany, with England confident they can buck the recent trend and prevail should the game end in spot-kicks.
The Italian, unlike some previous England managers, has made a point of instructing his players to practise penalties at the end of every training session since the squad first convened for their pre-tournament preparations in Austria last month. A quartet Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney and the inexperienced James Milner have been earmarked to step forward, with Gareth Barry expected to be the fifth nominee.
The five have regularly taken penalties for their clubs and have spent extra time practising against Capello's No1, David James, since the tournament began this month. All four World Cup meetings between Germany and England have been level at 90 minutes, suggesting penalties may await on Sunday. That is ominous given the English have left their last two major finals after losing shoot-outs to Portugal Gerrard, Lampard and Jamie Carragher missed in Gelsenkirchen four years ago and succumbed to Germany in that manner at Italia 90 and Euro 96.
"The manager is on to the penalty takers to make sure we're doing it properly in training and not messing around," Gerrard said. "He wants us to do in training what we do in a game: pick a spot and not change your mind. It is massive pressure. I didn't handle it in 2006, so if I'm put in that situation again I will try and deal with the pressure a lot better. All you can do is be ready, not shy away from it and have the bottle to step up, especially if you've missed one before. I'll be ready."
England's record contrasts markedly with that of their rivals in Bloemfontein. The Germans have not missed a penalty in a World Cup shoot-out since Uli Stielike against France in 1982 they have fluffed only two ever scoring all 12 of their efforts en route to eliminating Mexico in 1986, England in 1990 and Argentina in 2006. Lukas Podolski's miss in the recent loss to Serbia was their first failure in 18 attempts, and they had not passed up a World Cup penalty in normal time since 1974.
"I can understand that, when people look at what's happened over the years, all you remember is losing to Germany on penalties, but this is a different game and a different team," Jermain Defoe said. His goal propelled England, who will again wear all-red against Germany, into the knockout phase but he has missed six of his past 11 penalties at Tottenham. "It's about having a clear head. Forget about what happened before and focus.
"We practise them at the end of every session. The manager gets the goalkeepers in and Jamo stands there screaming: 'Come on, are you boys up for it?' We aren't walking up from the halfway line some countries do that but there's still pressure. The manager blows a whistle and you take them. If you score he doesn't really say anything. That is a good sign. He's confident. He knows the lads are confident and ready if called up. We're really relaxed."
Tension is already starting to build ahead of Sunday's match with Franz Beckenbauer, a World Cup winner as captain in 1974 and manager in 1990, following his initial criticism that England had regressed into a "kick and rush" team by claiming Capello's side appeared "burnt out" after finishing second in Group C. "A game like this should be a semi-final, not a last 16 game," he said. "Stupidly, the English have slipped up a little by finishing second in their group.
"The English look a little tired. There is a good reason for that: the Premier League players have got to play far more games than their Bundesliga colleagues, including two national cup competitions. When it comes to a World Cup or a European Championships, they are burnt out. Our players, on the other hand, seem to be in a physically better condition. Of course we respect them, but we certainly don't fear them. England's first two appearances at the World Cup were paltry, but they improved against Slovenia."
Capello, who passed up the opportunity to watch Italy's elimination to go on safari in Pilanesberg, remains confident that his side broke through a psychological barrier by defeating Slovenia in the final group game and can now set their sights on eliminating another of the perceived major football nations in the knockout stage of a World Cup for the first time since the final in 1966.
"I know these players," the Italian said. "They needed that victory. I needed it. But they can compete against all the teams in the competition and the level and I'm sure the performance and spirit of the team will be at this level."
Frank Lampard [for Chelsea and England]
v Japan [30 May 2010]: Missed
v Portsmouth [15 May 2010]: Missed
v Wigan [9 May 2010]: Scored
v Stoke [25 April 2010]: Scored
v Aston Villa [27 March 2010]: Scored
Steven Gerrard [for Liverpool]
v Lille [18 March 2010]: Scored
v Birmingham [9 November 2009]: Scored
v Tottenham [16 August 2009]: Scored
v West Ham [9 May 2009]: Missed
v Aston Villa [22 March 2009]: Scored
Gareth Barry [for Aston Villa]
v Everton [12 April 2009]: Scored
v Sunderland [17 January 2009]: Scored
v Arsenal [26 December 2008]: Scored
v Wigan [26 October 2008]: Scored
v Litex [18 September 2008]: Scored
James Milner [for Aston Villa]
v Birmingham [25 April 2010]: Scored
v Hull [21 April 2010]: Scored
v Manchester United [28 February 2010]: Scored
v Blackburn [20 January 2010]: Scored
v Bolton [7 November 2009]: Missed
Wayne Rooney [for Manchester United]
v Liverpool [21 March 2010]: Missed
v Wolves [15 December 2009]: Scored
v Portsmouth [28 November 2009]: Scored
v Portsmouth [28 November 2009]: Scored
v Arsenal [29 August 2009]: Scored