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England are historically bad at penalties. Can this squad do better?

Can England cure their penalty curse if they have to face a shoot-out? Lingard, Sterling, Rashford, Jones and Pickford share their penalty stories.
Philadelphia Eagles' Jay Ajayi gives his predictions for the knockout stages of the World Cup - can England go all the way??

MOSCOW -- Penalties. There, in three syllables, is the word that strikes fear, panic and a general sense of hopelessness in every Englishman. When it comes to being world leaders, nobody can match England when it comes to messing it up from 12 yards in a penalty shoot-out, and now that we're in the knockout stages of Russia 2018, the shadow of penalties begins to loom large once again for the 1966 World Cup winners.

Still, at least there is some good news. Spain's shoot-out defeat against Russia in Luzhniki Stadium and Denmark's spot-kick exit in Nizhny Novgorod on Sunday ensure England won't be the first to suffer that indignity at this World Cup, but there is a determination within Gareth Southgate's squad to make sure it doesn't happen at all.

Southgate, of course, has history with penalty shoot-outs. The image of the current England manager being consoled by Terry Venables following his decisive miss against Germany in the Euro 96 semifinal is one that defines both the tournament and that memorable summer when football almost came home. But there are plenty of those images in which England are concerned.

No nation has a worse record than England in World Cup penalty shoot-outs. Mexico and Romania have both lost two out of two, but England have lost all three of theirs -- against West Germany in 1990, Argentina in 1998 and Portugal in 2006 -- and they have also lost three out of four in the European Championships. Their only success was against Spain in the Euro 96 quarterfinal; their current tally is won one, lost six.

The Dutch are also pretty hopeless from 12 yards in shoot-outs, and Italy share England's record of three World Cup defeats, but the Azzurri earned a decent slice of redemption by winning the 2006 final on spot-kicks against France in Berlin. Yet with England preparing to face Colombia in Moscow's Spartak Stadium on Tuesday for a place in the quarterfinals, penalties have once again returned to the conversation.

Prior to the tournament, ESPN FC spoke to several members of Southgate's squad about penalties and how they will confront the challenge of taking one or keeping an opponent's out of the net.

Harry Kane is proven from 12 yards, and Jamie Vardy also boasts an impressive record from the spot, but penalty shoot-outs are rarely won or lost by the specialists; it is the "have-a-go heroes" who generally suffer the consequences, with Southgate an obvious example.

So once the penalty-takers are out of the way, who comes next?

"I used to be a regular taker for the Under-18s [at Manchester United]," said Marcus Rashford. "Those things don't really faze me that much. We practice penalties a lot in training every day, so if you get one in a game situation, it should be easier.

"It's definitely a skill, and it takes a while to master it. You look at the top penalty-takers in the world and they know exactly what they are going to do."

So, Marcus, have you ever taken one in a professional game?

"No," he replied. "But will I take one? One hundred percent, I'll be up there."

Harry Kane's pedigree from the penalty spot is proven but can England escape their collective struggles in a shoot-out?
Harry Kane's pedigree from the penalty spot is proven, but can England escape their collective struggles in a shoot-out?

Phil Jones is classic England-penalty-shoot-out material. Bold enough to step up and take one -- like the unprepared, and unsuccessful, David Batty against Argentina at France '98 -- but does he have the skill set? And has he taken one before?

"I have, yeah," he recalled, laughing. "The last penalty I took was against Sunderland in the Carling Cup semifinal [in 2014] -- I think it's still travelling now, to be fair!

"But I feel more experienced now, and I'd feel more confident if I had to take one now than I did back then."

How about Jesse Lingard? The United midfielder has impressed in Russia, scoring one of the goals of the tournament so far, in the 6-1 victory against Panama. He is brash, confident and unlikely to be hiding behind a teammate if (or when) Southgate is looking for volunteers.

"Have I taken a penalty?" said Lingard. "Yeah. I took one for Birmingham ... but I missed I've been on them for United for most of the season, but we just haven't had any penalties. I am confident when I take a penalty.

"Is it about luck or skill? I think it's a bit of both. You need a bit of both in your locker to send the keeper the wrong way."

For Raheem Sterling, there is a method to penalties. Clear and simple: Practice makes perfect.

"With penalties, I just feel that if it's something you have been practising, repetitions, it is a skill," Sterling said. "It is something you have to keep practising to achieve."

It cannot all be about practice and skill, however. Some of the greatest names in football have missed in World Cup penalty shoot-outs, including Diego Maradona, Michel Platini, Socrates, Roberto Baggio, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard -- the list goes on. So it is about more than technique. Nerve, judgement and facing a beatable goalkeeper is also a crucial element.

England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, who will go into the Colombia game knowing exactly how the likes of Radamel Falcao and James Rodriguez take their penalties thanks to video footage, admits it is a game of the taker and keeper out-thinking each other.

"You have to have skill to take a penalty and also go the right way as a taker," said Pickford. "For a keeper, you have to be ready and have a bit of knowledge.

"If you're taking one, you have to go one way and hit it with a bit of power. But you can't look too much into it. If it is penalties, we'll have knowledge of the takers and who has taken them predominantly."

England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford has been studying penalties ahead of their last-16 clash with Colombia.
England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford has been studying penalties ahead of a last-16 clash with Colombia.

Goalkeepers tend to get a free pass during a penalty shoot-out, ending up either as the hero or the guy who had no chance in the first place. It is the taker who carries the burden, and Jones admits the only way to prepare for a penalty shoot-out is to practice.

"It takes a lot of practice," said Jones. "It's like everything; the more your practice, the better you get at it. Penalties are part of football, and we have to get ready to do it if we get there."

We may discover fairly soon whether England are ready to banish their penalty misery or remain stuck in their recurring nightmare.

Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_

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