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David James: It's not true that a keeper has nothing to lose in a penalty shoot-out

EURO2020.com columnist and former England No1 David James reflects on his own penalty shoot-out memories, debunks the myth that there is no pressure on keepers and offers an analytical eye on Manuel Neuer.

There was this notion that got bandied around – particularly back in the 90s – that you couldn’t practise penalty shoot-outs, or the pressure of penalty shoot-outs. I always thought that was nonsense because if you can’t do that then you can’t practise the pressure of a match.

Knowing Gareth Southgate, England will have been through every scenario. You can always get into the right mode and give yourself the best chance. It’s not true that a keeper has nothing to lose in a shoot-out; you’re part of a team that’s trying to beat the other team.

Going back to my own experiences, I always felt that I had a good chance – I had a pretty good penalty record in normal circumstances. I felt that I could make the difference in our EURO 2004 quarter-final shoot-out against Portugal. When the final whistle went, there was a moment when I needed to collect myself, but Gary Neville was doing what he thought was the right thing by following me around and shouting positive stuff at me! It wasn’t helping because I wasn’t able to collect my thoughts.

Keeper Ricardo wins shootout for Portugal against England at EURO 2004
Keeper Ricardo wins shootout for Portugal against England at EURO 2004

David Beckham missed our first spot kick and although they then missed one too – and I would give myself some sort of credit for going the right way and perhaps putting the player [Rui Costa] off – I didn’t actually save any. It was over really quickly from what I can remember.

Afterwards, you’re left thinking, "Why didn’t I do this? Why didn’t I do that?" There was no comfort in being a keeper who’s not expected to save any. There was frustration. More often than not, it's non-goalkeepers saying there’s no pressure on keepers.

It’s very infamous that Portugal keeper Ricardo took his gloves off to save Darius Vassell’s penalty and then scored against me! Being a goalkeeper, I couldn’t read him. I wouldn’t say I have sleepless nights over it but it does pop into my head at the most random moments sometimes.

In 2004, we didn’t have the information that keepers have now. Now you can really start to pick up on micro-movements and on idiosyncrasies that might give you a clue where they’re going to go. We didn’t have access to those things in 2004.

That was a problem with Zinédine Zidane’s penalty when we played France in the opening game, too. I’d tried before the tournament to get a load of video of generic penalty-takers, just to try and pick up on general rhythms rather than specifics. But the only video I could get wasn’t much use.

Neuer: 'Time to write a new chapter'
Neuer: 'Time to write a new chapter'

I’ve done some homework myself on Manuel Neuer ahead of Tuesday’s game. I want to know if there are any signs. Quite often we look at the taker to work out where they’re going to go; if I was a taker, I’d want to look for signs of where the keeper’s going to go.

I’ve spent a bit of time on Manuel Neuer and he is an interesting monster. He doesn’t have one set way of doing things. While you’re taking the penalty, you need to be looking at all the details. A lot of keepers will do the same things for certain actions and there’s a moment you can see they’re committed to doing something in particular. Neuer doesn’t always do that. If you’re trying to read him as you strike the ball, it’s easy to get it wrong.

Saying all that, if you take a good enough penalty then the keeper doesn’t have a chance anyway! Hopefully, we don’t end up going to penalties – England are capable of winning it in normal time.