Hodgson: Penalty shootouts are a national phobia

The England coach has revealed that his players are practicing spot-kicks as the Three Lions enter the knockout stages of Euro 2012 with a quarter-final against Italy
England coach Roy Hodgson has started to prepare his players for the possibility of a penalty shootout against Italy in Kiev on Sunday in an attempt to finally put an end to the Three Lions' spot-kick jinx.

England have lost a staggering five tournament matches out of six from the dreaded penalty spot, beating Spain at Wembley during Euro '96 only to go out against Germany in the semi-final by the same method.

 Oliver Platt
 England Expert
It's a familiar story, but practice alone has not been enough to solve the Three Lions' shoot-out problem at recent tournaments.

It is impossible to replicate the pressure of the real thing on the training ground, but England can take heart from the more relaxed atmosphere around the squad in Poland and Ukraine. That apparent togetherness and optimism could stand them in good stead from the spot this time around.
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.

Euro 2012's remaining teams

"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."