England’s penalty loss to Portugal in 2006 was one of the most heartbreaking of the lot. This was the Golden Generation at their peak, and they travelled to Germany with a genuine shot of winning that World Cup. But ahead of England’s 2022 quarter-final with France, Paul Robinson, the goalkeeper 16 years ago, reflects on his experience.
“We were down to 10 men so we were in ‘get through the game’ mode,” Robinson tells Betfred TV, citing Wayne Rooney’s shock sending-off. “We were absolutely delighted to get to penalties, playing against a good Portugal side down to 10 men. Spent a lot of the time in a low block, defending trying to get a clean sheet to get as far as we can and take us to penalties and then it is a lottery. So in that game, the mentality was probably different to what it would have been with 11 men.”
Rooney’s sending-off certainly changed the landscape of the game, but having lost to Portugal on penalties two years earlier, surely there was a sense of trepidation from an England squad that contained the likes of Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Rio Ferdinand. But Robinson, who hadn’t played at Euro 2004, was hoping to become the hero.
“I was looking forward to penalties, I couldn’t wait because you have nothing to lose and you can potentially be a hero,” he says. “I did so much work and research with Ray Clemence at the time, who was my goalkeeping coach. You watch so much footage of penalty takers, I knew exactly what order they were coming up in and you watch penalty takers. There’s no point just watching penalty takers for the sake of it. You need to watch a penalty taker when he is under pressure. We worked out what was their go-to penalty, or their safety penalty.
“So I knew exactly what order they were coming up in, and I knew exactly which way I wanted to go. If I had an intuition at the time, because you can watch them and I used to watch the players’ feet when they put the ball down. Subconsciously, they would plant their foot, their supporting foot, the way they are going to shoot.”
Robinson didn’t manage to save a penalty, but Portugal missed the target twice as England were offered a great chance to win the shootout. However, misses from Lampard, Gerrard and Jamie Carragher condemned them to another early exit and the country was left to stew on what might have been.
“Going back to the research now, the striker knows you’ve done that research,” Robinson reflects. “They know you know everything about their penalty taking and their technique. With Cristiano Ronaldo on the deciding penalty, I knew his favoured penalty was whipping it to my right, so I wondered whether he was going to double-bluff me. But I stuck with the research and he put it to my left.”
Moving things on to the present day, and England have a goalkeeper who has already won a World Cup penalty shootout in Jordan Pickford. He was the hero against Colombia four years ago and stopped two penalties against Italy in the Euro 2020 final, so Robinson has full faith in him to deliver again.
“I think he’s good, he has proved before that he is,” he explains. “He’s got the mindset where he can get into the striker's mind. I think he can be annoying at times for strikers. You have to affect people walking up to take a penalty. Whether it is taking you time, coming off your goal-line, scuffing the penalty spot up, a few of the dark arts to give your team the advantage. No matter how many times you practise penalties, you cannot recreate that atmosphere. When you’re walking up to take a penalty and you know that half the world is watching you and if you miss you are likely to go out. Use that to your advantage, put even more pressure on the striker. From a goalkeeper’s point of view, he will do that.”
Pickford might have shown his worth from 12 yards, but will there be a hangover from any of the penalty takers after that heart-breaking loss to Italy 18 months ago?
“I think Bukayo Saka would be the one, you look at his age and potentially what that could have done, but he’s had the best season of his career,” Robinson states. “He’s now at a World Cup, he’s taken penalties at club level, that is well behind them but the experience - they won’t have a fear of missing now. Because what can happen? It can’t get any worse than what happened before. If we miss and go out it isn’t going to be as bad an experience as it was before. They’ve been there and done it and they’ll be stronger people and stronger men for it.”
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