Paying the penalty

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So England’s adventure at Euro 2012 is over.

Hardly surprising that it finished prematurely and the manner of defeat was hardly surprising either – that oh so familiar gut-wrenching penalty shoot-out.

I have lost track of the number of times over the years that I have seen an England team lose their nerve and subsequently the game from that little spot of paint, 12 yards out from the goal.

I’m really not sure why this is the case. Surely it can’t be due to lack of practice or purely down to nerves.

(I’d imagine players from other nations get nervous too, but somehow they seem to manage to control themselves a bit better at the crucial moment).

It can’t be down to bad luck either. If ever there was an even contest, then the penalty shoot out is it. All you have to do is to take a few paces and try to kick the ball into the goal. Sure there is a goalkeeper trying to stop this happening, but you really should score every time.

Can’t blame the referee either for once.

For me, different countries’ approach to the penalty shoot out is a reasonable expression of their national identity, whether that be the Germans approaching the spot with clinical efficiency, or the Italians with a hint of passion and a wink in the eye (see Pirlo’s ‘dink’ for proof).

But when it comes to England, it sems to be a case of glorious (or sometimes not so glorious) failure.

The nearly men of international sport. The team that promises much (in the media, anyway) but then fails to deliver at the crucial moment. The nation that hates to lose, but is afraid to win.

Maybe it is my pessimistic side (forged by too many years of seeing England lose when it counts), but I always see opposing players approaching the spot with confidence and expect them to score.

But when it comes to England, as their chosen penalty takers start their long, reluctant walk to the spot, it’s not so much a case of ‘if they miss’, rather ‘when they miss’ and who the main culprit(s) will be. As and when that dreaded moment comes, those poor scapegoats can add their names to the pantheon of English spot kick failures.

In a way, last night’s defeat was different to previous occasions. Pre-tournament expectations were low and had been largely exceeded, England had been comprehensively outplayed in the game and, hey, we all know what happens with penalties anyway.

For me the hardest part was trying to explain it to my 6 year old son who had fully embraced both the tournament and his new homeland and was understandably distraught at seing them lose in such a dismal manner. “But why Dad…” he implored.

“Well son, it’s a long story with no happy ending. Are you sure you want to hear it?”

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