07.07.2024 14:15 h

England turnaround penalty torment to reach Euros semis

England's history at major tournaments is littered with penalty pain but they put that tortured past behind them to beat Switzerland and reach the semi-finals of Euro 2024.

The Three Lions were perfect from the spot with all five kicks in Duesseldorf, while goalkeeper Jordan Pickford continued his fine penalty record by saving from Manuel Akanji.

It was quite a contrast to the penalty heartbreak that Gareth Southgate's England side went through three years ago when they lost the final of Euro 2020 on home soil.

As a player Southgate also suffered the ignominy that comes with missing in a shoot-out more than most after his penalty was saved in the Euro 96 semi-final exit to Germany.

But the England manager's attention to detail is helping turn the tide on their record with three wins from four shoot-outs under his watch.

England won a World Cup shoot-out for the first time in their history against Colombia in 2018 en route to the semi-finals.

Victory in Saturday's quarter-final was just their second ever in a Euros in six attempts, while they also beat the Swiss in a third-place playoff at the 2019 Nations League finals.

"We think we've got a good process. We've been in four, we've won three,"said Southgate.

"Of course, we got absolutely crucified for the one we lost and that's always going to be the case because it is outcome based.

"We refined that process a little bit. We have more regular penalty takers in the squad now than then and more that have been in shoot-outs."

England's poise from the spot was all the more impressive with Harry Kane replaced in extra-time due to fatigue.

The average age of the five takers was just over 23 and all had their own point to prove.

Bukayo Saka, who kept England in the tournament with a stunning strike 10 minutes from time, made amends after missing the decisive penalty in the shoot-out against Italy three years ago.

"You can fail once but you have a choice of whether or not you're going to put yourself in that position again. I'm a guy that's going to put myself in that position," said Saka.

"I believed in myself and when I saw the ball hit the net I was a very happy man."

Ivan Toney replaced Kane and justified his inclusion in the squad as a penalty specialist.

Cole Palmer is yet to start a match in Germany, while Trent Alexander-Arnold was dropped after failing to take his chance in a midfield role.

Meanwhile, Jude Bellingham had been cleared to play just a day before the Switzerland clash after a UEFA investigation into his crotch grab celebration to save England from an embarrassing exit to Slovakia in the last 16.

Southgate has long dismissed the cliche that penalties are a lottery.

While working as a TV pundit, he suggested after England's exit at Euro 2012 the need for players to work with a psychologist.

In his eight years in charge, he has employed specialists to help on the finest details, including breathing techniques and the optimal time for players to take a penalty to avoid rushing the process.

That work has borne fruit in three wins from four compared to one win in seven prior to his appointment.

"It's my responsibility but on a night like tonight it's the players that deliver," added Southgate.

"What I want to do is take the pressure for them. They were so composed. The whole process was really calm."

Southgate also reserved special praise for his goalkeeper.

Pickford's energetic, at times manic, demeanour does not portray an ice cold temperament.

Yet, he is a specialist under the most intense pressure.

The Everton stopper has saved at least one penalty in every shoot-out he has been involved in.

Even in the one he lost at Wembley three years ago, Pickford saved two of Italy's five penalties.

His preparation was picked up by the cameras with a water bottle that had instructions of where to dive for every Swiss penalty taker.

"The goalkeeper will always make at least one save, so that gives us another chance," Southgate added.