'Penalty shoot-out' is among the most dreaded expressions in the English language, but have Italy cashed in their spot-kick chips too soon?
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Mere mention of the words 'penalty' and 'shoot-out' has a tendency to induce mass panic among England fans.
The litany of spot-kick failures is logged firmly in the national consciousness, stuck in that section of the hippocampus all English supporters reluctantly reserve for it. Stuart Pearce's low spot kick down the middle in Turin, the one Chris Waddle sent into orbit, Gareth Southgate's uncharacteristically rushed, nervy effort...EURO 2020 final: click for live coverage
Shoot-outs precipitated England's demise at the FIFA World Cups of 1990, 1998 and 2006; and the EUROs in 1996, 2004 and 2012, when Italy were the executioners (Andrea Pirlo's insouciant Panenka, anybody?). If it goes the penalties again on Sunday then expect resignation to reign among the majority at Wembley, but have the Azzurri cashed in their spot-kick chips too soon?
The unwritten law of EURO shoot-outs is that if you win one, you can't win another. No side have ever won two in a single tournament. Over the years, five teams have confidently lined up on halfway for penalties with a spot-kick victory fresh in their minds from the previous round – all ended up disappointed.
Teams with two shoot-outs at single EURO
1996 France: W 5-4 vs Netherlands (QF); L 6-5 vs Czech Republic (SF)
1996 England: W 4-2 vs Spain (QF); L 6-5 vs Germany (SF)
2016 Poland: W 5-4 vs Switzerland (R16); L 5-3 vs Portugal (QF)
2020 Switzerland: W 5-4 vs France (R16); L 3-1 vs Spain (QF)
2020 Spain: W 3-1 vs Switzerland (QF); L 4-2 vs Italy (SF)
Having seen off Spain 4-2 on penalties in the semi-finals on Tuesday, Italy will have to achieve something no nation has ever pulled off in EURO history if Sunday's final against England remains level after 120 minutes.
On top of that, Jordan Pickford has inspired England to shoot-out wins in their last two tournaments – against Colombia at the 2018 World Cup and in the 2019 UEFA Nations League finals, when he also scored against Switzerland in the third-place play-off. The Everton man has kept out nine of the 42 penalties he has faced inside 120 minutes as a senior player.
The Italy goalkeeper has faced 40 penalties during his senior career and kept out 14 – a 35% save record! His stop to deny Álvaro Morata also maintained his perfect record in shoot-outs for club and country: four wins from four. If anyone is going to buck the trend, thinks the worrisome England fan, it is surely him.Download the EURO app