Chris Waddle blazing one over the bar in Turin, Gareth Southgate’s side-foot effort parried by Andreas Kopke, Ashley Cole bested by Gianluigi Buffon – England have a long and painful history of exiting major tournaments because of missed penalties.
With football currently suspended, fans have recently been “treated” to either reliving or experiencing for the first time some of these defeats via televised repeats. All in the name of “nostalgia”.
The Three Lions have won just three of the nine shootouts in which they have taken part at a World Cup, European Championships or Nations League tournament – the first was over Spain in the Euro ’96 quarter-finals and was their only triumph in seven attempts.
But is there cause for optimism with the last two coming in their last two victories – against Colombia at the 2018 World Cup and then over Switzerland in last year’s Nations League.
Maybe. Maybe not.
While a new study points out England have scored 90% of penalties taken during a game, that falls to 60% in shootouts. Or to put it more simply, England score, on average, just three of the five penalties taken in a shootout when the pressure ramps up that little bit more.
England’s conversion rate during a game is above the average across all nations, but the shootout score is 10% below par – according to the research carried out in Germany.
By way of comparison, the research also showed that England’s nemesis Germany performed 10% better with penalties in shootouts at major tournaments (85.2%) than they did in games (75%).
England’s international penalty shootouts at major tournaments
- 1990 World Cup semi-final – West Germany 4-3 England
- 1996 European Championships quarter-final – England 4-2 Spain
- 1996 European Championships semi-final – Germany 6-5 England
- 1998 World Cup last 16 – Argentina 4-3 England
- 2004 European Championships quarter-final – Portugal 6-5 England
- 2006 World Cup quarter-final – Portugal 3-1 England
- 2012 European Championships quarter-final – Italy 4-2 England
- 2018 World Cup last 16 – England 4-3 Colombia
- 2019 Nations League third-place play-off – England 6-5 Switzerland
What does the new research show?
Using data gathered on the 696 penalties taken at World Cups and European Championships since 1976 (when shootouts were introduced) and 4,708 spot-kicks awarded in the top German, English, Spanish, Italian and Dutch leagues from 2006 to 2016, scientists at the Sport University of Cologne have been able to compare penalty success rate with the nationality of those taking them.
What they discovered was that English players’ success rate of 61.32% in shootouts is below the average of all nations recorded (71.97%).
However, their conversion rate for penalties during games in World Cups and European Championships (90%) and in European leagues (75%) are above the overall averages of 78.74% and 71.01% respectively.
Michel Brinkschulte, Philip Furley and Daniel Memmert, the study authors, conclude that such comparisons do not represent “statistical significance” and that “our results implicate there are no significant differences between the success rates of penalty takers from different nations”.
Brinkschulte told the BBC: “The only thing we can say is that the nationality of the player per se does not have an impact on the success rate in scored penalty kicks.
“This is an interesting finding because now we can conclude that simply ‘being an English football player’ does not affect the performance in penalty kicks.
“In turn, the fact that England actually has lost in these shootouts does not automatically mean that they are bad at scoring penalty kicks in general.”
So why have England lost so many shootouts?
Well, for starters, the authors of the study suggest that English fans are perhaps swayed to view their country as bad at penalties because of previous high-profile and emotionally resonant shootout defeats.
The heart-wrenching semi-final losses to the Germans at the 1990 World Cup and Euro ’96, the gut-punch of the exit at the hands of Argentina in 1998 and the dream-destroying defeat by Portugal in 2004 all serve to give us a distorted view of England’s fallibility.
So much so that even that first success against Spain (before meeting Germany in 1996) is eradicated from our minds.
They also highlight the possible pressure put on players by England’s “brutal” press and the “prevalent attitude among English coaches and players that penalty shootouts are a lottery… causing the national team to prepare inadequately”.
Finally, they point to what is something of a “self-fulfilling prophecy” for England sides, who are now so ingrained with the stereotype that the nation’s players are bad at penalties that their performance reflects it.
“I believe that the stereotype ‘English players are bad at scoring penalty kicks’ is in every England national team player’s head as they walk up to the penalty spot during a shootout in an important game,” added Brinkschulte.
“The stereotype has been discussed in the media so much in the past and basically everyone knows it, resulting in these thoughts automatically coming to your mind, either consciously or subconsciously.
“In our paper, we cite research that has found that a person’s behaviour can change simply from thinking that they belong to a certain stereotype.
“This is why I consider research like this and also more positive media coverage on the topic to be really important to not only get this myth out of the players’ but also out of the fans’ heads.”
The most recent shootout successes against Colombia and Switzerland won’t do any harm, either.