Details behind England's penalty success; USMNT does not have 'golden generation'


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Hello! Keep your eyes on the prize. Just like Ivan Toney.

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Coming up:

🗒️ Pickford’s water bottle codes

🇧🇷 Brazil exit Copa

🕰️ When is it time to retire?

🤏 Man Utd close in on Zirkzee


Euros Zone: Pen pals

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(Carl Recine/Getty Images)

Penalty shootouts in knockout football. If you’re not forearmed, you’re doing it wrong.

Don’t take my word for it. Three of the Copa America’s four quarter-finals ended in penalties. Two at the Euros did likewise, and another was minutes away. There’s no excuse for coming in blind, and in terms of the mechanics of getting ready, there’s no better example than England’s last-eight victory over Switzerland.

Forget the idea that players tackle shootouts on a whim. Jordan Pickford’s water bottle on Saturday put paid to that myth, labelled with details of what each Swiss taker was likely to do from 12 yards: where they usually aimed the ball, and how Pickford should react.

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By no means is this new ground. Goalkeepers such as Pickford scheme religiously but his cheat sheet was the mark of a footballer prepped to the nth degree. He had Manchester City’s Manuel Akanji figured out in advance — dive left, the list told him, and Pickford did. That save won the shootout. 

Pickford, admittedly, might have had a brain freeze against Fabian Schar, faking left and going right when his instructions told him to do the opposite, but hours and hours of research helped England through five high-pressure minutes.

They’ve come up with a buddy system to celebrate or commiserate on the result of each penalty and take time to compose themselves before their kicks (a 5.2-second delay vs 1.3 for the Swiss). It was these details that made the difference between a semi-final and a sombre flight home.

Not that Ivan Toney was feeling the strain. He’s a lethal penalty-taker for Brentford and that showed in his no-look effort on Saturday (above), driven into the bottom corner without so much as a glance at the ball. Bottle that confidence.

Winning ugly

Even minus Pedri, injured and out of the Euros, Spain are in business. They’re playing with their tails up. Mikel Merino’s frog-leap header sent hosts Germany out. Of the four semi-finalists, they’re holding it together best. 

In contrast, France coach Didier Deschamps is back in the routine of defending the conservative style which has edged them into the semis. He substituted Kylian Mbappe during Friday’s win over Portugal, a match devoid of spark. 

The Netherlands’ Ronald Koeman has been fending off criticism, too. And as for Gareth Southgate… well, as Michael Cox succinctly puts it, we’re at the point where nobody expects England to play well. And where England don’t seem to be trying to play well.

It’s a peculiar state of affairs. France are incapable of scoring a decent goal. The Dutch resorted to using the big man, Wout Weghorst, to drag them past Turkey. England captain Harry Kane, to quote Tim Spiers, resembles “an arthritic scarecrow” (he is largely joking, not that Southgate is any more inclined to drop him than Roberto Martinez was Cristiano Ronaldo).

Yet here they are, one step from the final. Call it the results business.

Turkey talent

A quick word on Turkey, who made a creditable fist of their time in Germany. Their performances were energetic and enlightening. Their coach, Vincenzo Montella, clawed back some of the reputation he gained in his younger years in Italy. They ran out of steam but they leave in credit. 


News round-up


Copa Corner: Bye, bye, Brazil

Ronaldinho warned us. He told us Brazil were not worth watching and while he tried to row back on those comments, perhaps we were right to take them at face value.

The Selecao barely reached first base at the Copa America and now they’re out, beaten on penalties (yes, penalties) by Uruguay. As a nation, they won’t take their no-show lightly. They’ll look for somebody to answer for it, which means trouble for coach Dorival Junior. He’s only been in the job for six months.

There could be lasting consequences for Lucas Paqueta, too. It’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that the Copa will be the last we see of him.

The midfielder’s career is in jeopardy because of allegations he breached betting rules by deliberately incurring yellow cards in games for his club, West Ham United. He denies wrongdoing but if England’s Football Association finds him guilty, he could be staring down the barrel of a life ban. Watch this space.

Uruguay vs Colombia: match of the tournament?

Marcelo Bielsa has taken down Brazil. He’s taken down the USMNT. So in the words of the wrestler Goldberg, who’s next?

Colombia are next, in a semi-final which is shaping up to be the game of the tournament. Uruguay’s win over Brazil most certainly wasn’t that — a war of attrition littered with 41 fouls, one of them earning Nahitan Nandez a red card — but most of Bielsa’s fare has been a treat.

That said, no team have looked more fluent at the Copa than Colombia. James Rodriguez is rolling back the years. They were clinical in smashing Panama over the weekend (five shots on target, five goals; one of them an improvised Luis Diaz lob, below).

So whichever timezone you’re in, be sure to sit up for this one.

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No ‘golden generation’ for USMNT

A week on from the USMNT’s sorry elimination, The Athletic’s Paul Tenorio and Thom Harris have been debunking the belief that the U.S. squad constitutes a golden generation.

Problem one: not enough of their players hail from the world’s best clubs. Problem two: while the same is true of Uruguay and Colombia, their respective coaches (Bielsa and Nestor Lorenzo) are getting more of a tune out of their resources than Gregg Berhalter. Food for thought.

Happier times for Jesse Marsch, a man once touted as a possible Berhalter successor but now in the dugout for Canada. His side have made the last four. And they’ve got Pittsburgh Penguins NHL star Sidney Crosby in their corner.

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Time to retire?

So farewell, Toni Kroos. Germany’s defeat to Spain sends him into the sunset. Farewell, too, Cristiano Ronaldo. However long he drags his career out now, the European Championship won’t be graced with his presence again.

Kroos could see when and how to get out. Ronaldo lacks the same conviction. But this column by former England striker Alan Shearer gives valuable context to the fear and loathing caused by the dark shadow of retirement; what it’s like to be the lion at the head of the pride, losing his grip.

Other sports see it too. Cyclist Mark Cavendish, now 39, went for the record of stage wins at the Tour de France this year — and somehow got it. Andy Murray wanted a fitting goodbye at Wimbledon — and couldn’t make it happen. Deep down, they’re all programmed to compete. And all prone to chasing that one final moment.

SLOW


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Quiz Answer

On Friday we gave you seven of the 14 players who have scored once for England under Gareth Southgate — Kyle Walker, Kieran Trippier, Kalvin Phillips, Ben Chilwell, Cole Palmer, Ivan Toney, Danny Ings — and asked you to name the other seven.

The missing names were: Conor Coady, Emile Smith Rowe, Eric Dier, Harry Winks, Jermain Defoe, Michael Keane and Ryan Bertrand.

(Top photo: Getty Images)



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