Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Curing the penalty blues

It is a familiar summer scenario. England, in a major international tournament knockout match, are out-passed and out-classed by an illustrious opponent after qualifying with patchy group stage performances. An at-times heroic defensive display is not enough to clinch victory, with defeat being inflicted on penalties after a tense period of extra time.

In truth this painful outcome that England's women experienced at the World Cup last week would have looked upon by their male counterparts with a degree of jealousy. The dismal performances at last year's World Cup and failure to qualify for Euro 2008 makes Fabio Capello's men yearn for the good old days of heroic penalty disappointment.

Penalty defeats are nonetheless a recurring scenario and whilst looking at the reasons for this shortcoming should not be a priority – England were second-best to France and never looked like tournament winners – this peculiarly English phenomenon is a big issue. Those looking at the football online betting wouldn't have been surprised by the way things went.

English penalty problems have been given special resonance after coach Hope Powell's 'cowardice' comments. These were unsurprisingly poorly received by the players, but the long-serving boss makes an important point.

Having so few genuine volunteers in such a situation is alarming. It is of course not ideal to force unwilling players to taking spot-kicks, but it is only slightly less preferable to having semi-willing volunteers who do not possess the necessary technical attributes.

But this asks another question – are strikers really better-suited to spot-kicks? Beating a stationary keeper with a dead ball is a different skill to being accurate with an instinctive shot past a moving target. Midfielders and defenders are more used to being accurate with build-up play passes and might in fact be more comfortable from 12 yards.

Knockout stage penalties are supposedly missed due to psychological weakness rather than technical shortcomings. Wanting to take one is only part of the picture. Confidence can be misplaced and perhaps the best tactic is to identify the most accurate takers in training and drill them repeatedly in low-pressure situations to help overcome the nerves that take hold when the pressure is on.