Hodgson hopes England can overcome penalty phobia
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By ROB HARRIS
KRAKOW, Poland (AP) Even before reaching the quarterfinals, England coach Roy Hodgson had his European Championship squad practicing penalties.
It's little wonder after so many heartaches over the years turned taking spotkicks into a national phobia for England players.
England has lost five out of six shootouts in World Cups and European Championships, and could face another on Sunday if it's all square against Italy after 120 minutes of their Euro 2012 quarterfinal.
"We have used the time after training sessions to regularly practice," Hodgson said. "We'll obviously take it even more seriously now ... (but) you can practice penalty shootouts until the cows come home - it's really your composure, your confidence, your ability to really block everything out and forget the occasion that means you score or you don't score."
Hodgson accepted that being put on the spot from 12 yards (meters) has induced fear into English players "because we've lost important matches on penalties."
"When you are working with the England national team the past is always going to weigh heavily because everything we do today is being compared with something that happened in the past," he said. "Unfortunately we have lost two very, very important semifinals on penalties (the 1990 World Cup and Euro '96) so I presume that's going to be there during all my time as national coach and probably when a national coach comes 20 years hence."
Just six members of England's Euro 2012 squad were in the group that went to the World Cup in 2006 and lost on penalties to Portugal in the quarterfinals.
And there was bemusement that the pitch at England's Euro 2012 base near Krakow didn't have a penalty spot when reporters first visited two weeks ago.
Players, though, later insisted one had been painted into the Polish turf. But will penalty drills make any difference if there's an actual shootout under pressure against Italy - or later in Euro 2012?
"You do practice them and you do hope one day it will make a big difference, but in my experience in penalty shootouts it's really the composure, the confidence and strength of mind of the individual," Hodgson said. "And sometimes we've seen the best players miss and the players you think are not penalty takers, they are the ones that smash them in."
Franco Baresi and Roberto Baggio were among the Italy players to miss spotkicks in the 1994 World Cup final loss to Brazil, but the Azzurri made amends by winning the 2006 title in a shootout at the expense of France.
England's penalty jinx started in the semifinals of the 1990 World Cup in Italy, where Stuart Pearce and Chris Waddle missed to help West Germany win a shootout 4-3 after the match finished 1-1.
Six years later, England had its only successful shootout against Spain in the Euro '96 quarterfinals - with Pearce converting his kick this time - before losing on penalties in the last-four to Germany.
At the 1998 World Cup, England went out in the second round to Argentina. And Sven-Goran Eriksson's England was beaten by Portugal on penalties at both Euro 2004 and the 2006 World Cup in the quarterfinals.
What Hodgson believes his England players have already shown at Euro 2012 is the courage and fortitude that would be needed in a shootout, drawing with France before beating Sweden and co-host Ukraine to win Group D.
"In this group France came here as one of the favorites after going 22 matches unbeaten, Sweden are a major opponent at any tournament and we were playing the host nation in front of 50,000 people," Hodgson said.
But while Hodgson was preparing for penalties as soon as England arrived at Euro 2012, landing Italy in the quarterfinals took him by surprise.
He had been expecting to face Spain in the quarterfinals, but by topping Group D on Tuesday, England instead secured a meeting with Italy and avoided the world and European champions.
"Our preparation for Italy started on Wednesday," Hodgson said. "I watched the game between Spain and Croatia rather than Italy and Ireland (on Monday) partly thinking that if we were to do well, Spain would be a possible opponent.
"I have seen Italy play but I haven't studied them and how good they are. But they have been good enough to get out of a very tough group."
Rob Harris can be reached at http://twitter.com/RobHarris
Updated June 20, 2012