England are using sports psychologist Ian Mitchell to ensure that they are ready for the possibility of a penalty shoot-out in the World Cup knockout stages. The FA’s head of performance psychology, who joined England from Wales four years ago, is working with the squad at their Al-Wakrah base to prepare them for the stress of spot-kick drama.
England won a shoot-out against Colombia to progress through the round of 16 in Russia in 2018 but suffered the heartache of defeat on spot-kicks to Italy in the Euros finals last summer. “We know now we’re at the stage where we can get penalties and we’ll be well prepared for it,” said midfielder Declan Rice.
“If it does come to penalties, I’ll back us 100 per cent all the way. I’m really confident in what we’re seeing not just because of the players we’ve got but also the preparation we’ve put into them. We have got psychologists with us, who tell us the best way to calm down.
“It’s just all about having a clear breath, a clear mind and putting everything out of the way.” The England penalty-takers initially worked on their accuracy with targets set up to aim for but no goalkeepers to get in the way.
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“For the first few weeks we were using the Skilz Net. With those nets, it is all about picking your spot,” said Rice. “The keepers have now started to come into play and when the keepers come in it’s another psychological test.”
Rice believes England are starting to strike fear into the World Cup big guns as they bid to give the nation a Christmas gift to remember. England are rated only fifth favourites heading into the round of 16 with Brazil, Argentina, France and Spain all fancied more than them.
But Rice insists England can go toe to toe with any of football’s elite and that their rivals know it. “I think other nations will look at us and think about the quality we’ve got in the squad. Why should we not be feared?” said the England midfielder.
“If you look at our attacking players, there are world class, unbelievable talents across the board. There are players who have played in the biggest games, won the biggest trophies. We are one of the biggest teams here.
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“It’s down to us to prove it on the pitch. Obviously teams like the French have proved that. They’ve won a World Cup. But all those big nations – we want to show them we’re here. We’re not just here to get into the round of 16. We want to go the whole way.”
Rice added: “You see the support we’ve got in the fan parks, in pubs and it makes me happy seeing videos of the fans after we’ve scored. We will try to keep going, try to lift everyone.
“It’s obviously really close to Christmas now so hopefully we’ll give them the best Christmas present.” The West Ham captain is bidding to emulate Hammers legends Bobby Moore, Martin Peters and 1966 hat-trick hero Geoff Hurst in lifting the trophy.
On Hurst, he said: “I met him last year for the first time. He is a great guy. He scored the hat-trick in the final and the West Ham fans have never let that be forgotten – they say they won the World Cup! Hopefully I can be one of the next ones that the West Ham fans can say that about.”
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