IF England versus Germany goes down to a penalty shootout, do not expect Gareth Southgate’s men to be cool, calm and collected.
They will have been practising and analysing and leaving nothing to chance to prepare for such a huge moment.
But even if you are a regular penalty-taker, as I am, you simply cannot replicate the extreme pressure of a situation like that — the crowd noise, the expectation and the fear of missing a crucial penalty at Wembley.
When Watford reached the FA Cup semi-final two years ago, we were 2-1 down to Wolves in the 94th minute when I was fouled and the referee pointed to the spot.
Now I’ve taken dozens of penalties and I haven’t missed too many but that was something else.
People talk about trying to block out the noise but in my experience that’s pretty much impossible.
I had to let VAR do its thing and I had to take myself out of that situation. Then I can remember trying to regulate my heart rate with deep breaths.
But I could still feel my leg really shaking, even though that wouldn’t happen when taking a penalty in a ‘normal’ situation.
As I stepped up, I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and blasted it down the middle.
It was extreme relief when the ball hit the back of the net and we went on to win in extra-time but I am not going to pretend I was cool as a cucumber — not even close.
It’s not that I think this England team will be burdened by those shootout defeats by the Germans in the 1990s.
I remember Euro 96 so well as I was just eight and that was the tournament that really got me obsessed with football.
The memories are indelible — Football’s Coming Home, the Twin Towers of the old Wembley, Alan Shearer on fire, Paul Gascoigne’s magic, that grey Umbro kit and for me, as a wannabe forward never blessed with genuine pace, I always recall my dad telling me to watch and learn from Teddy Sheringham.
But Southgate missed that crucial spot-kick because England hadn’t prepared for penalties like a modern-day team would do.
They will have been practising — replicating that long, lonely walk from the centre circle to the penalty spot that you get in a shootout.
And they will all know where they are going to put the ball. I don’t think you’ll see too much indecision from players.
England have plenty of experienced penalty-takers and they will trust their technique. Harry Kane will put his laces through it and aim for the corner, Marcus Rashford opens up his leg and uses his instep.
A player like Rashford might find himself coming on five minutes before the end of extra-time specifically to take a penalty and that brings an added pressure all of its own.
England will have prepared psychologically but, like I said, even that might not stop their legs from shaking uncontrollably!
I’m not saying I expect Tuesday’s game to go to penalties. If I had to make a prediction, I’d take a tight England victory, maybe another 1-0. In many ways, the roles are reversed from those games in the 1990s.
Back then Germany were favourites and were renowned for their efficiency.
But this time England are favourites, they are ranked higher than the Germans and their form has been better.
This time, England are an efficient team. They haven’t excited us too much yet but they have topped their group without conceding a goal and got the job done.
Germany will test England’s defence like they haven’t been tested for some time.
I like Serge Gnabry, who had a point to prove after failing to crack the Premier League but always seems to turn it on against English sides and is a Champions League-winner with Bayern Munich.
Former Manchester City winger Leroy Sane has had some criticism in Germany but he could turn it on.
I think Southgate will go with a back five to match Germany’s system.
He likes the balance of Tyrone Mings as a left-footer alongside John Stones and Harry Maguire, whose return to fitness is really welcome.
It wouldn’t surprise me if Jordan Henderson starts too after playing 45 minutes against the Czechs.
I love Jack Grealish but I don’t think I’d start him in this match. If you have Grealish, Bukayo Saka, Rashford and Jadon Sancho on the bench, you can really make full use of your five subs and use pace against tiring legs.
I fancy England and if they do win this, they will be favourites to reach the final. I can’t see them losing a quarter-final to Sweden or Ukraine, although Holland would be tough in a potential semi-final.
Still, first things first, let’s concentrate on the Germans and a rivalry like no other for England.
It’s my birthday on Tuesday and I can’t think of too many better presents than seeing Southgate’s men beating Germany.
Even if we do all have to suffer the ordeal of penalties!
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