England are intensifying penalty practice ahead of the Euro 2016 knockout stages, with Wayne Rooney honing his technique by trying to beat the goalkeeper after telling him where he is putting it.
Monday’s last-16 clash with Iceland is the Three Lions’ first knockout match at a major tournament since Euro 2012, when they exited to Italy at the quarter-final juncture.
That was England’s sixth defeat in seven penalty shoot-outs and has understandably led the issue to come into focus ahead of the trip to the Stade de Nice.
Rooney, now at his sixth major tournament, was quick to point out that none of the 23-man squad have missed a spot-kick in a shoot-out, although they have stepped up practice ahead of Monday’s match.
“I think now we are in the knockout stages I’m sure we will practice a lot more as a group rather than players going up individually – practice as a group in case it comes and we need them,” he said.
“It’s a nervous moment. I remember in the last Euros against Italy. As I’ve said before, I always know which way I’m going and (Gianluigi) Buffon was actually pointing and telling me he knows I’m going that way.
“He was right, so then I started wondering if I should go the other way. But I ended up the going the same way but he dived the other way.
“Just by a goalkeeper pointing one way, it can knock you off. But you have to be confident in what you have practised.”
It underlines how much penalty-taking is as much about mental strength as technique and Rooney attempts to replicate that match scenario during practice.
The country’s all-time top scorer spoke of the importance of getting into the rhythm of finding a corner and is telling England’s goalkeepers where he is placing it to make it as difficult as possible during training.
“Whatever corner I am going for I tell the goalkeeper, so that makes it harder for me,” Rooney said.
“If he can’t save it, despite knowing which way I am going, there are no worries for me in taking them.
“It’s more difficult, but if he doesn’t save it, it’s fine.”