England may have won their last two penalty shootouts but the thought of being involved in another at Euro 2020 could still be enough to keep many fans awake at night.
The Three Lions’ record in games decided by spot-kicks remains notoriously poor and many might fear the worst if Tuesday’s last-16 clash with Germany remains deadlocked after 120 minutes.
It was the Germans who beat England in their first shootout in their World Cup semi-final meeting of 1990 and the result was the same when the sides met again in the last four at Euro 96.
England did overcome Spain on penalties in the quarter-finals in 1996 but, other than that, the nerve-shredding deciders brought nothing but woe until Colombia were beaten in the second round at the 2018 World Cup. Argentina, Portugal (twice) and Italy all beat England in major tournaments in the intervening years.
England did enjoy further penalty success in their UEFA Nations League third-placed play-off against Switzerland two years ago but it remains to be seen if the demons of the past have been truly vanquished.
The key to their hopes will be how the players overcome the apprehension or doubts these situations create.
According to Dr Greg Wood, senior lecturer in sport and exercise psychology from the Manchester Metropolitan University Institute of Sport, anxiety can affect the performance of a player by impairing their visual focus.
Dr Wood told the university’s ‘MetCast’ podcast: “I looked at how anxiety affects the visual behaviour of football players. When they’re anxious, what changes?
“We know their performance gets a lot worse, and that’s because of anxiety, but anxiety actually affects someone’s performance through a change in attention and what you look at.
“When they’re anxious they generally, instead of looking at where they’re going to shoot – which is obviously really important, in order to pick up a target you need to look there – they focus on the goalkeeper and worry about the goalkeeper’s effect on their performance.
“So, instead of looking where they should be looking, they have this anxiety-induced attentional bias towards the goalkeeper, and because they’re looking there, they will more likely hit there.”
Dr Wood has led a study on the subject and believes the best way to combat the problem is to practise beforehand.
Many managers and players have said over the years practice is of limited use because the tension of matchday cannot be recreated, but Dr Wood insists it provides an important benefit.
He said: “Just practising can have an effect on confidence, which can negate against some of the effects of anxiety.
“You look at sports like golf, darts, snooker – players in those sports will practise over and over again so when they’re in that crucial situation that the motor skill is ingrained, so it’s robust under pressure.
“It seems to be something with football that they don’t recognise that. No other sport thinks like that.”