'Arrogance and confidence' – breaking down England's perfect penalties

For years, England fans, players and pundits have feared the very mention of penalty shootouts.

England have now been in 10 shootouts at European Championships and World Cups. Their record? Won three, lost seven.

But things seem to have changed. England have no reason to be scared of penalties any more – and based on the perfect shootout win over Switzerland, they have no fear at all.

Under Gareth Southgate, the Three Lions have won three of their past four shootouts – including beating the Swiss 5-3 in Saturday’s Euro 2024 quarter-final.

All five penalties were fired home with precision, while goalkeeper Jordan Pickford crucially saved from Manuel Akanji.

This win follows shootout victories under the management of Southgate in the 2018 World Cup against Colombia, and versus the Swiss again in the 2019 Nations League third-place play-off.

The blot on the copy book is a big one – defeat by Italy in the Euro 2020 final. But it seems like this England team have not been shaken from the spot.

Former England defender Matt Upson told BBC Radio 5 Live: “We have players who have an arrogance and a confidence in themselves. That will help England because sometimes, these key moments and big games can come down to that sort of bottle.”

'Pressure is for tyres'

Ivan Toney

As Alan Shearer memorably exclaimed as England celebrated Saturday's shootout victory: “Pressure is for tyres.”

None of England’s takers – Cole Palmer, Jude Bellingham, Bukayo Saka, Ivan Toney and Trent Alexander-Arnold – looked to be feeling any pressure as they tucked their penalties away in Dusseldorf.

England scored all five of their penalties against Switzerland, making it just the second time they have netted 100% of their efforts in a shootout, also doing so at Euro 96 versus Spain.

Palmer lived up to the Cold Palmer nickname he has cultivated at Chelsea, sending Switzerland goalkeeper Yann Sommer the wrong way.

Bellingham brought all his main-character energy to the shootout, rolling the ball into the right-hand corner and celebrating in his trademark, wide-armed manner.

Saka fired into the side-netting to gain redemption for missing in the Euro 2020 final, having scored the brilliant equaliser to drag England to this point.

Toney, sent on for England captain Harry Kane in extra time, was undaunted and scored into the bottom-left corner without even looking at the ball.

And to top it all, Alexander-Arnold – dropped after the second game of the Euros following a failed central-midfield experiment – smashed the ball into the top corner to spark bedlam and ecstasy.

They were all excellent, but Toney's really caught the eye as he stared straight ahead at the goalkeeper and kicked the ball into the net.

“It is my routine. It is what I do. Some people see it as crazy but it is working," said the Brentford striker who scored 30 penalties in his career.

Upson praised Toney's approach: "He is addressing the penalty that the psychology is more important than the technique.

"He has got total eyes on the goalkeeper so can tweak and adjust which is why you see him hit it into the empty side of the net so often."

'Akanji: Dive left'

Jordan Pickford
Jordan Pickford had the Switzerland players and the directions he should dive for their penalties written on his water bottle [Getty Images]

There were two other heroes on the pitch for England’s shootout – Pickford, and Pickford’s water bottle.

The England goalkeeper had every Switzerland player and the direction he should go when facing their penalties, including “dive left” next to Akanji’s name.

He did just that and saved Akanji's shot.

Pickford has saved four of the 14 penalties he has faced in shootouts at World Cups and Euros, twice as many as all other England goalkeepers combined saved between 1990 and 2012.

While his saves from Andrea Belotti and Jorginho could not deny Italy at Euro 2020, his stops from Carlos Bacca in 2018 and Akanji in 2024 were essential in sending England through.

“I believe in my mentality and I believe I will save at least one,” Pickford said after the game, while also revealing he was threatened with a booking by referee Daniele Orsato if he did not stay on his line and stop putting off Swiss takers with his antics.

Anyone hoping to copy Pickford’s penalty preparations were left disappointed, however, as a question aimed at digging down into the subject at the post-match media conference was shut down by the England press officer, who said: “We don’t want to give away the secrets.”

Why were England so good at penalties against Switzerland?

Such is the growth in confidence of the current crop, there was no fear in subbing regular penalty taker Kane off in extra time, something which would have been unthinkable as recently as Qatar 2022.

It is the second successive game in which Kane has been taken off in extra time – both he and Bellingham were withdrawn against Slovakia in the last 16.

But in both games, England have been confident they have enough quality takers on the pitch.

Kane told 5 live: "I was weirdly calm on the bench. I see the way the guys prepare and the way they take them. We have a lot more players who take them for their clubs, and I know Pickers is going to save one."

Toney, Palmer and Saka all lead on penalties for their clubs, as does Eberechi Eze who was unused against Switzerland.

The English attitude towards penalties has also changed. No longer are they seen as a lottery, but as something which requires extensive preparation and much skill.

Gary Neville told his Overlap podcast last month that they “tried everything” during his England career for penalties.

Gareth Southgate
England manager Gareth Southgate has insisted on more in-depth preparations for penalty shootouts [Getty Images]

“We won one penalty shootout in my time. I recognise now we felt penalties was 50/50,” Neville said. “It isn’t. You have to have really good technical players on the pitch.

“Someone told me the other week what Gareth does. He takes three players to a very quiet area of the training ground. They take three penalties each in a real methodical way. Quite short but concentrated and focused. Basically, they are told to pick a place where they are going to take the penalty and they go in.”

Neville detailed some of the previous attempts. “We had penalty competitions, leading up to the tournament, which meant whoever won the penalty competition were the best five penalty takers. That was Sven in 2006 in Germany. That’s how [Jamie] Carragher ended up on the pitch, coming on for two or three minutes, as he actually won the penalty competition.”

Instead of using a casual competition as grounds for qualification to take penalties in a major tournament quarter-final, Southgate’s England take a rather more regimented approach.

Chris Markham spent four years at the Football Association (FA) as game insights lead, and worked closely with England managers in making preparations for penalties more professional.

Markham told the Daily Mirror: “I think I found quotes from each of the last five England managers before Gareth Southgate, not including Sam Allardyce, that said either the penalty shootout was a lottery, penalties are all down to luck, or that you can’t practice that kind of pressure.‌

‌“Luckily for us, Gareth and his staff were extremely open-minded and respectful of good-quality work. But they don’t suffer fools gladly so we knew it had to be at a really high standard. Talking about run-up steps, angle, pace, you know everything from breathing techniques, optimal areas of aiming, goalkeepers, looking at goggles."

Bellingham gave 5 live insight into how that work has been taken on, and highlighted the role of England coach Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, the former Chelsea striker who joined the backroom staff in March 2023.

“I was really confident in my preparation and the things I’d talked through with Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink," he said.

"He’s stepped up for us massively and it’s the work he does behind closed doors with the lads willing to take on that information that put us in those situations to be able to win.

"This is a massive team effort. Another thing is Dean Henderson, Aaron Ramsdale and Tom Heaton, who have been with us this camp, have been huge in helping us practice the penalties.

"They won’t get the credit they deserve but essentially if they don’t put in the right effort we don’t get to practice properly. And in those moments you don’t have the right practice to go out and execute.

“There is so much that goes into it now. You are always trying to find the edge in every game.

All that hard work has paid off, and now England have no fear of paying the penalty right now.