- England’s Curtis Anderson saves and scores in penalty shoot-out
- Young Lions have only conceded twice in four games
- Quarter-final against USA: "We’ll be ready"
Any football fan knows that England have a chequered history when it comes to penalty shoot-outs – and their past record makes for uncomfortable reading. Since 1990, the Three Lions have faced six penalty shoot-outs at major tournaments, losing five of them – more than any other team. Their vanquishers at the 1990 FIFA World Cup™ and EURO ’96 were Germany, followed by Argentina at France 1998 and Portugal in 2004 and 2006.
Scientific research even suggests that English players give themselves less time to take their shots than their counterparts from Germany or France, and are much more likely to avoid making eye contact with the goalkeeper.
With all this in mind, it comes as little surprise to learn that Steve Cooper’s first thought after the final whistle blew in his team’s Round of 16 match against Japan at the FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2017 was “Oh s**t.” The England U-17 coach revealed this with a smile during his post-match press conference before adding more seriously: “My players are ready for anything and we always have a plan, even for penalties. This is top-level international football; you can’t leave anything to chance.”
Cooper ultimately had his goalkeeper Curtis Anderson to thank for the Young Lions’ passage to the last eight. England’s No1 produced an outstanding save to deny Hinata Kida for Japan’s third spot-kick before scoring with a low shot en route to victory just moments later.
"I like to take on responsibility and it’s something I’ve done before,” Anderson said in the corridors of Kolkata’s Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan Stadium after the match. “It’s totally normal for me. Having said that, I wouldn’t like to take a penalty during normal time."
The shot-stopper had not given England’s poor penalty record a second thought, instead focusing on staying on his line, maintaining his concentration and then “picking a side. There’s always a bit of luck involved”.
Awaiting England in the next round of Saturday are USA, who recorded a resounding 5-0 victory over Paraguay. “They’re definitely strong opponents, but we’ll be ready,” Anderson said.
The pure confidence exuded by the 17-year-old is entirely justified. Having conceded just two goals in four matches, both of them in the 3-2 win over Mexico, England have one of the strongest defences in the tournament so far. If they manage to combine the old adage of 'attack wins you matches, defence wins you titles' with their new-found love of spot-kicks, then their best may be yet to come in India.