England historically have a dismal record when it comes to penalty shoot-outs. With the Three Lions preparing for their first World Cup knockout game in nearly a decade, there is, as always, an overriding fear that they will go on to lose on penalties. England have done exceptionally well in Russia and will be hoping to continue the good form they have shown thus far. The whole country together with England fans have united together over the last few weeks in a way that hasn’t happened since Euro ’96. But, if the match against Colombia does indeed last longer than 120 minutes, will there still be that confidence and belief that has been clear to see?
Gareth Southgate would surely like to think so, and he might just have a plan that could surprise us all. The focal point of that plan may come in the form of Burnley’s Nick Pope.
Gareth Southgate may ponder a tactical switch of goalkeepers if Colombia take England to penalties. Pope has impressed in England training as the rest of the squad have practised penalties. Despite being considered third-choice, he also has the best penalty-saving record of the three goalkeepers in the squad. Pope has saved 3 out of 13 penalties he has faced in his senior career, while Jordan Pickford has saved just 3 out of 25 in his, and Jack Butland has saved just one more than Pickford out of the 25 he has come up against.
Southgate could consider playing Pickford during normal play. Then, if it gets that far, he could substitute Pickford just before extra time ends, with Pope coming on in preparation for penalties. World Cup rules now allow three substitutions within 90 minutes, but then an extra one being permitted in extra time. With just one senior England cap to his name, throwing Pope on in such intense pressure on the biggest stage of all would undoubtedly be a huge gamble. Yet, we have seen so far during his tenure that Southgate isn’t afraid to take risks. Although, he may have to prepare for a backlash if he decides to go ahead with something like this and it doesn’t pay off.
At 6ft 3in, Pope is the tallest goalkeeper out of the three, and three inches taller than first-choice Pickford. Pickford was recently criticised by Belgium’s Thibaut Courtois about his lack of height after the Everton shot-stopper was questioned about his diving and handling technique during Adnan Januzaj’s winner in the 1-0 defeat last week. Courtois, perhaps unnecessarily, said that Pickford was 10cm shorter than him and that he would have saved it. As a result, Southgate must decide if it will be a psychological advantage to have a taller goalkeeper if it comes to penalties.
Could history repeat itself?
Interestingly, should Southgate decide to go with Pope after extra time, it wouldn’t be the first time something like this has happened in a World Cup. You have to go all the way back to…the last World Cup for when it last occurred. Famously (or infamously depending on which way you look at it), former Holland coach Louis Van Gaal replaced Jasper Cillessen with Tim Krul in the 121st minute of their quarter-final match with Costa Rica. The match went to penalties and Krul incredibly stopped two penalties as the Netherlands went through.
Gareth Southgate may indeed take a leaf out of Van Gaal’s book and use it as inspiration, but it would be an almighty risk. Perhaps the more important issue concerns the players who would be willing to step forward to take a penalty if the situation arises.