John Stones says England have prepared for penalties down to the smallest detail
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John Stones’s first game for Everton in 2013 ended in a penalty shoot-out with nothing much riding on a pre-season friendly against Juventus in San Francisco and the young defender on the list to take the first of the sudden-death spot-kicks.
At St George’s Park last week, Stones politely declined an offer to watch a clip of what followed on YouTube, although he remembers it fondly. Just 19 at the time and yet to make his Premier League debut, he convinced goalkeeper Marco Storari to fling himself to the right and gently chipped the ball into the left corner. The perfect Panenka penalty. Which asks all sorts of questions as to what Manuel Neuer might be thinking if Stones is called upon to take one against the Germans at Wembley on Tuesday.
The Manchester City man chuckled at the memory. “I felt no emotion going up to that. Probably just so young. I had done it in training and the manager [Roberto Martinez] was laughing because I was with [Everton goalkeeper] Joel Robles at the time and he used to get so angry at me messing about. Then I remember walking up and he said, ‘Yeah, go on’. He just gave me the nod.”
Stones, 27, is now a three-times Premier League winner and Champions League finalist and sees himself as a mentor for the younger players. A star of the 2018 World Cup finals, he was the next penalty-taker to come after Eric Dier crashed in the winner in that monumental shoot-out against Colombia. “That was a scary moment,” he says. “But I was ready because of this process that we’ve always talked about. It’s about making you as comfortable as possible in that situation. Because, unless it’s Harry [Kane] or the boys who take penalties for their clubs regularly, it’s a zone that we’ve not stepped into before.”
Not only have England’s players practised their spot kicks but they have rehearsed the routine for the time between the final whistle and their individual moments of truth. In short, Stones says some want to be left alone, some might want a massage, some might want to look at a screen to help them prepare. One of the revelations of Gareth Southgate’s reign is that penalties are not the proverbial lottery. They can be planned for and practised.
A 19-year-old John Stones chipping his first penalty for Everton
Credit: Everton FC
“Everything will be done before so it’s not like a mad scramble and we look like we’re unprepared,” Stones says. “We want to be going into it knowing that we’ve ticked every box. Knowing that when a certain situation comes, no one is panicking, saying, ‘Oh, do you want to go third?’ ”
Stones says he sees a fearlessness in the squad, and his own confidence is evidently back. A fixture again in the City team and a Premier League winner once more, a lot of England’s success relies on his partnership with Harry Maguire and Kyle Walker. “The winning mentality and the willingness to win is now coming out,” he says. “I haven’t seen as much in previous squads before 2018. There’s a real hunger there which is so natural to everyone. When we come up against Germany, it’s a time to really test ourselves and show the world what a good team we are.”
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He points out that this squad have seven players who contested the all-English Champions League final between European champions Chelsea and English champions City. As for winning, “it starts to spread like wildfire” he says. “It’s the hunger. Boys have been winning things for their clubs now and they get that hunger for lifting trophies.”
In Porto, he was one Kai Havertz goal away from perhaps winning the Champions League final – or at least seeing it go to penalties. Stones says he has not watched it back yet. “At the end of the game it was one of the worst feelings I have had in football,” he says. “Getting so far in something and then not succeeding is difficult. I spent a few days afterwards having flashbacks and getting upset. But it’s probably a process of me learning something. That was my first final in which I have not been successful. But I think I learnt a lot and next time hopefully it will turn out a different way. ”
Would he go for a Panenka again? “No! After seeing Sergio doing it this season.” Aguero’s unforgettable miss against Chelsea lives on. Stones says he is ready for the moment. If it comes. “Choose your spot,” he says. “We’ve been practising on keeping that clear focus: what to do if your turn comes.”