Jordan Pickford preparing to be England’s unlikely penalty king

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Jordan Pickford is ready to be England’s penalty hero in Russia and is just as prepared to try his luck from 12 yards as he is to make a match-winning save.

Three Lions goalkeepers do not just carry the hopes of the nation with them when they land at a tournament, they also find themselves at the centre of the country’s preoccupation with spot-kicks.

The English fascination with – and fear of – penalties dates back 28 years and includes six agonising defeats from seven shootouts.

Their solitary victory came at Euro 96, when David Seaman saved from Miguel Angel Nadal, but Everton’s number one is admirably laid back about the prospect of improving on that sorry record.

And while his main job would be keeping the ball out of the net, he will happily volunteer to strike one at this summer’s World Cup.

“If I need to step up, I’ll take one. I’ve got no issue with that,” said the 24-year-old at St George’s Park.

“Taking the (winning) penalty or saving one, I’ll be happy either way. I’ve never taken one in a shootout but I’m always practising in training.”

Back in 2004 England were knocked out when Portugal keeper Ricardo blocked Darius Vassell’s effort and then converted his own.

And Pickford’s suggestion that he would like to follow suit is more than just idle hubris.

During the Under-17 World Cup in 2011, Pickford was primed to take his shot against Argentina when manager John Peacock switched him with team-mate Max Clayton.

“I was down as third to take one but the manager changed it so I dropped to seventh,” he recalled, before swiftly noting Clayton “smashed it over the bar”.

Pickford revealed Gareth Southgate’s penalty preparations are already well under way, perhaps no surprise given he was personally guilty of a memorable miss against Germany in 1996.

England have already had mock shootouts, with players walking from the halfway line to recreate the matchday process.

Ultimately, though, there is no foolproof formula and in its absence, Pickford’s confidence might be a valuable weapon.

“Behind the scenes we’re doing a lot of work to get preparation for how we’d want to go about it,” he said.

“There are a lot of good penalty takers here and we’ve been practising the last couple of days…it’s been hard to save them.

“It’s pot luck sometimes isn’t it? It’s about how the taker’s looking at it, body language, where his shoulders or arms are…and sometimes you’ve just got to pick a side, wait and attack it.

“If you get there you get there and if you don’t, get the next one.

“If you save a couple you can be a hero but there’s no pressure on you. I’ve saved a few penalties, I’m good at them.”

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Joe Ledley and Ben Davies full of praise for Chris Mepham after fine performance for Wales against Mexico

Phil Blanche 29/05/2018
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Chris Mepham, 20, had a fine game and drew praise from Ledley and Davies.

Joe Ledley believes Wales‘ talented youngsters are set to play a part in the forthcoming UEFA Nations League campaign.

Wales held World Cup-bound Mexico to a goalless draw in front of a huge 82,345 crowd at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.

The result was achieved despite the absence of several regulars, among them Real Madrid forward Gareth Bale after his Champions League final heroics.

Manager Ryan Giggs gave opportunities to young players in his first two games in charge at the China Cup in March, and he did the same again in California.

Brentford defender Chris Mepham was outstanding in making his first start, and Leicester forward George Thomas, 21, and Manchester City midfielder Matt Smith, 18, both made second-half debuts as more youngsters were sent on.

“It’s great to see these young players come through and hopefully there’s many more caps to come,” Ledley said.

“There’s a good mixture here, with the youngsters coming through and a lot of experienced players. I think we’ll see that in the next campaign.”

Ryan Giggs gave debuts to two players and put his trust in youth throughout the game.

Ryan Giggs gave debuts to two players and put his trust in youth throughout the game.

Wales’ next games are in September when the inaugural Nations League campaign gets underway.

Giggs’ side host the Republic of Ireland in Cardiff before travelling to Denmark, and Ledley believes they will travel with confidence after frustrating Mexico.

“It wasn’t that long ago we played Mexico at this time of year and lost 2-0, so we’ve come a long way from there,” he said.

“They’re in the World Cup and we always knew it was going to be a difficult game.

“Some of us finished our season two or three weeks ago and we were always going to be up against it.

“But we worked our socks off and showed our character. It was a great performance.”

Ben Davies was particularly impressed with 20-year-old Mepham, who showed his maturity after skipper Ashley Williams succumbed to a suspected rib injury in the 17th minute.

Mepham was both vocal and organised as he and 23-year-old Bristol Rovers centre-back Tom Lockyer claimed a memorable shut-out against opponents ranked 15 in the world.

“Losing Ash was a big blow but the boys who came in did ever so well,” Tottenham full-back Davies said.

“It’s something to build on for both of them, but Chris deserved to start the way he’s been training. People will say there’s a lack of experience there but it doesn’t matter when he’s shown the quality he has.

“The manager has shown faith in those who have done well on the training pitch and I think that’s right.”

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Manuel Neuer set to return from injury to face Australia in friendly

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Germany’s captain and goalkeeper Manuel Neuer will return to international action in Saturday’s World Cup warm-up match against Austria after more than eight months on the sidelines because of a fractured foot.

“Manuel will play, there’s nothing against that,” said goalkeeping coach Andreas Koepke from Germany’s training base in Eppan, Italy.

“These are matches he needs, it’s a real test. Afterwards, it will be up to us to decide if it’s all OK.”

Germany coach Joachim Loew has already said that Neuer would only travel to Russia for the June 14-July 15 World Cup as the number one goalkeeper.

Loew has taken 27 players with him for their training camp, including four ‘keepers, with four to be cut before the list of the official 23-man squad is delivered to FIFA on Monday.

Neuer, 32, took to the field for the first time since his injury on Monday, playing 30 minutes in a friendly against the German under-20 side. He was to repeat that against the same opposition on Wednesday.

“Manuel needs these matches to once again be on 100 percent top form. They’ll help him to refind his confidence,” said Koepke.

The assistant coach added: “In training, you can’t see any difference (with Neuer), it’s as if he’s never had a break.”

Should Neuer come back, Barcelona ‘keeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen will find himself relegated to the bench after a year of filling in at number one.

“He knows the situation,” Koepke said of Ter Stegen, with whom he and Loew have had talks over potential selection issues.

“Manu is our captain, a world champion. We’re trying everything so it works out for him. Obviously Marc-Andre would love to play, but he can manage the situation.”

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