Jordan Pickford's wild water bottle is just the start of England's penalty preparation

Jordan Pickford's wild water bottle is just the start of England's penalty preparation

Published Jul. 6, 2024 5:40 p.m. ET

DÜSSELDORF, Germany — You've probably seen Jordan Pickford's instantly-famous water bottle by now, but rest assured, that's only the starting point of England's penalty shootout trickery.

England goalkeeper Pickford quickly went viral on Saturday after his team's shootout victory over Switzerland, when his container with a treasure trove of instructional information found its way onto social media and beyond.

It was a cheat sheet on steroids, a list of what to do and where to dive when facing what seemed to be every single player in the Switzerland squad for the quarterfinal between the teams, which England won 5-3 on spot-kicks following a 1-1 tie to advance to a semifinal against the Netherlands (3 p.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app).


The most significant one, we now know, was the info relating to Manuel Akanji, the second Swiss kicker and its team captain.

"AKANJI: DIVE LEFT," read the printed missive. Pickford duly dived left, kept the effort out, and England never looked back.

"I think we've got a good process," England head coach Gareth Southgate said. "We've been in four shootouts and won three, and got absolutely crucified for the one we lost.

"We refined that process a little bit. We have more regular penalty takers on the squad than we had then. We have a calm process but the players had to show the composure they did."

And yes, there is more to it than typewritten "how-to-do" messages for Pickford.

[Related: 'We can change our lives forever': England's shot at history still alive]

There is daily penalty practice in camp, which sounds obvious but actually isn't. Former England head coach Glenn Hoddle, who David Beckham still has little time for, believed that practicing penalties was pointless, because you couldn't recreate the pressure of a game on the training field. You can guess how that worked out.

Pickford's backup keepers are involved, both in assisting the first choice but also in preparing and advising the England takers.

Southgate doesn't seek volunteers once extra-time ends, he knows not only his list but also what order he wants them to go in. Youngster Cole Palmer was not the most obvious selection to take the first kick, due to his relative lack of experience, but his composed finish belied any doubts.

The coach has no issue with brining on subs for the purpose of a penalty and no other reason, even though Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho famously missed in the Euro 2020 final against Italy.

Pickford's job doesn't end with keeping them out either. He greets the England kicker and hands them the ball, a friendly face (although he scowls a lot) before they face the heat. To that end, the shooters also told by Southgate and his assistants to take a moment after the whistle blows.

"I said after the Euros, it is my responsibility but on a night like tonight it is the players that deliver," Southgate said. "I want to take the pressure for them, if it doesn't work it is down to me. But for it to work they have to deliver as they did.

"None of this stuff is easy, but we are in a third semifinal in four tournaments. For the staff and players that is a pretty good achievement but that is not where we want it to end."

England vs. Switzerland Full Penalty Shootout | UEFA Euro 2024 | Quarterfinals

England looked more assured than perhaps ever before in this kind of situation. This is a nation that has sometimes been terrified of penalties – scars created by devilish dates etched into the national psyche -1990 and 1996 and 2004 and 2006 and 2012. And yeah, the Euros last time.

"For myself I believe we have some of best takers in the Premier League and the world," Bukayo Saka, who equalized after 80 minutes and scored with England's third kick in the shootout, said. "We talked about it before, if it came to penalties we we would be pretty confident. We showed that today, 5 out of 5 and we are going on to the next round.

"For me it is something I embrace. You can fail once but you have a choice whether you put yourself in position again. I believed in myself and when I saw myself hit the back of the net I was a very happy man."

Pickford, his screams of delight visible in the background when Trent Alexander-Arnold struck the winning kick, was pretty happy too.

Not about setting the internet ablaze necessity, but about keeping England's Euro 2024 flame burning.

Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports. Follow him on Twitter @MRogersFOX and subscribe to the daily newsletter.


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