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Friday, Aug 23, 2019

FIFA World Cup 2018: How England broke their penalty shoot-out jinx against Colombia

England finally overcame nearly 30 years of penalty pain when they beat Colombia 4-3 in the FIFA World Cup 2018 thanks to a good show by goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.

football Updated: Jul 04, 2018 19:54 IST
Divyan Aggarwal
Divyan Aggarwal
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford celebrates with teammates after winning the FIFA World Cup 2018 Round of 16 match against Colombia on Tuesday.
England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford celebrates with teammates after winning the FIFA World Cup 2018 Round of 16 match against Colombia on Tuesday.(AP)

When the referee blew his whistle at the end of extra time in England’s FIFA World Cup 2018 knockout tie against Colombia in Moscow on Tuesday to send the match into the dreaded lottery of the penalty shoot-out, an overbearing sense of fatalism weighed heavy on the minds of English fans. Groans of “here we go again” would have been flowing as freely as the ale in many a tavern across Fulham Road in West London.

And for good reason too. England had not won a penalty shoot-out in their World Cup history, failing in all their previous three attempts.

The blame for this abysmal record is often placed squarely at the door of the kick takers. Think of England’s penalty shoot-out misery and the glorious failures of Stuart “psycho” Pearce at Italia ’90 and those of golden generation flag-bearers Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard at Germany’ 06, among others, spring instantly to mind.

What has, perhaps bizarrely, escaped the collective consciousness is the quite frankly abhorrent record of the Englishmen charged with saving penalty kicks- the goalkeepers.

READ | FIFA World Cup 2018: England make history, by the hand of Jordan Pickford

There had been a total of 259 penalty kicks in World Cup shoot-out history before Tuesday night’s encounter, of which 238 had been on target and 56 were saved by Goalkeepers. Thus, the chances of a goalkeeper pulling out a save stood at 23.5%.

Shockingly, English goalkeepers had only contributed 1 save from 12 kicks on target - - David Seaman at France’98 the lone ranger - - with a well below-par 8.3% save ratio. Only Romania, out of the nations having faced 10 or more penalty kicks in World Cup shoot-outs had fared worse.

While the English kick-takers had not covered themselves in any discernible glory, at least their 50% conversion rate coming into the tournament was not dwarfed as embarrassingly by the tournament average of 70.2%.

These numbers of English goalkeeping failures married with the contrarian perception surrounding their World Cup shoot-out misery align themselves perfectly with the footballing truism that goalkeepers have nothing to lose in penalty shoot outs. Pull out a save or two and they are elevated to the status of hero, emerging as the single reason for their team’s penalty shoot-out success. Should they fail, no one bats an eyelid in the goalkeeper’s direction, choosing only to parochially focus on the failures of the kick-takers.

It is of little surprise then, that England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford will be cast as the lead author of a momentous first in England’s footballing history, managing to save 1 out of the 4- which is 25%- of Colombian kicks on target in their maiden penalty shoot-out victory at the World Cup.

READ | FIFA World Cup 2018: From increase in penalties to own goals - A statistical analysis

In truth, all Pickford did was bring his performance in line with the tournament average. It was the brave group of English penalty kick takers, who held their nerves and converted 80% of their 5 kicks, comfortably above the tournament average of 70.2%, who are perhaps deserving of a lion’s share of the appreciation. Yet their role will perhaps be relegated to the footnotes of a coming-of-age tale for this young Three Lions team.

Thankfully for this English side though, the herculean nature of even a single successfully converted penalty-kick is not lost on their manager Gareth Southgate, who recently said this about his penalty shoot-out miss at Euro 1996 “It will never be off my back, sadly. That’s something that will live with me for ever.

I’ve learned a million things from that day and the years that followed it, he said this week. 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 because you didn’t try to be as good as you might be.”

The keen sense of poignancy with which the England manager reflects on his failure as a kick taker, 22 years ago, paints an unsettling and troubled image of the damage on the psyche of a player who misses in these high-pressure shoot-outs.

Yet, how the watching public assimilates the goings on at a penalty shoot-out will remain a quirky oddity of our game. The minuscule upside of converting a penalty kick is not commensurate with the bloated downside of missing one. Not at least in the minds of those who have never themselves been in the situation.

First Published: Jul 04, 2018 19:54 IST

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