England coach Roy Hodgson said his players have practiced penalties, preparing for a potential shootout against Italy in Kiev on Sunday.
The Three Lions have lost a staggering five tournament matches out of six from the dreaded penalty spot, with their latest win by the sudden-death method coming against Spain at Wembley at Euro 1996.
With the curse of penalties looming once again as the knockout stage gets underway, the pragmatic Hodgson is confident his players can exorcise the ghosts of demons past.
“We’ve lost so many important matches on penalties that we know it’s a national phobia,” Hodgson told reporters.
“When you are working with the England national team, the past is always going to weigh heavily – everything we do today is being compared with something that happened in the past.
“Unfortunately, we have lost two very, very important semi-finals on penalties. So that’s going to be there during all my time as national coach and probably when a national coach comes 20 years hence he will be asked the same question as well – unless we start winning them.”
Of the current squad, both John Terry and Ashley Cole scored against Portugal at the same stage in 2004, while the latter scored from the spot for Chelsea in both the 2008 and 2012 Champions League finals.
Terry, however, is notorious for missing the decisive kick in Moscow against Manchester United and skipper Steven Gerrard also missed from the spot when lightning struck twice at the World Cup in 2006 against Portugal.
“We have used the time after training sessions to regularly practice some of those (penalties),” Hodgson added.
“We’ll obviously take it even more seriously now to do that aspect of it.
“But you can practice penalty shoot-outs until the cows come home and it still might not do you as much good as you would like in competitive matches.
“When it matters, it’s really your composure, your confidence, your ability to block everything out and forget the occasion that means you score or you don’t score.
“You do practice them and you do hope one day it will make a big difference but in my experience in penalty shootouts it’s really the strength of mind of the individual.
“Sometimes we’ve seen the best players miss and the players you think are not penalty takers are the ones that smash them in.”
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