Euro 2020: The whys and why nots of England’s spot-kick roster

Every examination of a failed penalty shootout follows a predictable pattern. Who should have taken the penalties and who should not have? Understandably, there is scathing recrimination on the England team management’s choice to thrust penalty-taking duties on Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, and Bukayo Saka, all three who became the fall-guys of the night, and victims of racist abuse. Of them Sancho and Rashford came on in the last minute of extra time, a further weapon to criticise Gareth Southgate and Co.

However, some of the criticisms are unwarranted. For two reasons: a) Some of them are regular takers with a prolific conversion rate; b) Anyone can miss a penalty.

The ones who missed

Marcus Rashford: The Manchester United forward was his club’s assigned penalty-taker before the arrival of Bruno Fernandes at the beginning of last year. His spot-kick record is exemplary, having missed just two of 15 previous attempts. Then none of them were in as high-pressure a situation as the final of the European Championship in front of a delirious home crowd. It might not have helped him that he was hardly involved in the match, or the tournament, and hence would have felt nervous.

Jadon Sancho: Like Rashford, Sancho has an exceptional conversion rate, having blobbed just one of 10 attempts. But he’s just 21 and playing in his first major tournament, and pressure got the better of him. Like Rashford, his involvement in the tournament has been peripheral, starting just one match, in which he was bereft of spark. Thrust into the big moment, he froze, his shot too feeble to evade Gianluigi Donnarumma’s spider-web gloves.

Bukayo Saka: It was the most baffling of all decisions. The young winger is unaccustomed to taking penalties even for his club Arsenal. He has taken only two in his career and missed one. While he is a brilliant passer and dribbler, scoring goals is not his strength. A sweet striker, he lacks accuracy. While there is a grain of logic in choosing Rashford and Sancho, listing Saka among penalty-takers was a folly.

Other options

Jack Grealish: The Aston Villa forward was apparently the eighth name on Southgate’s list. Many pundits felt he should have been given an earlier opportunity. Roy Keane blasted Grealish’s reluctance to step forward, to which the latter retorted saying he desperately wanted one. Be that as it may, Grealish is not much of a penalty-taker for his club and has attempted just one in 252 games. But his experience and intrinsic composure could have been taken into account.

Raheem Sterling: He is an abysmal penalty converter, having missed three of five attempts for both club and country. Hence, it was not surprising that even goalkeeper Jordan Pickford was placed above him on the list. Besides, he had endured a forgettable night.

Luke Shaw: The scorer of the first goal and the liveliest England player on the field, he could have certainly been promoted up the list. Though not a regular goalscorer or penalty-taker, he has been in terrific form all through the season and riding a wave of confidence, could have converted.

Others: Both Kalvin Phillips and Pickford have never taken one in their competitive careers. Neither has John Stones. The men Sancho and Rashford replaced — Jordan Henderson and Kyle Walker — too are not reputed for their accuracy from the spot. So in hindsight, barring the Saka faux pas, Southgate cannot be overly blamed for his preferences.

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