England team told to copy 'perfect' Cristiano Ronaldo as World Cup penalty practice begins


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England need to take a leaf out of Cristiano Ronaldo’s book if they are to avoid more tournament penalty heartache. Top sports psychologist Don Macpherson has studied Ronaldo’s preparation technique and believes he is the perfect template if Sunday’s World Cup round of 16 game against Senegal comes down to dreaded spot-kicks.

England’s defeat in the Euros final last summer was a reversion to type after the last-16 victory over Colombia on penalties in Russia four years ago. If there are scars remaining from that night it could be an issue against opponents who won the Africa Cup of Nations final against Egypt via the penalties route in February.

Macpherson feels preparation is the key. “Penalties aren’t a lottery, they are a competition and you prepare for a competition. The trick is to prepare well,” said Macpherson. 

“The perfect example is Ronaldo. His mental preparation right up to the point of execution is perfect. He slows his breathing, takes a longer out-breath, shuts his eyes as he mentally rehearses and then looks at the referee not the goalkeeper.

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“He does that every time. You can drill and drill penalties but unless you get to grips with the mental side you can be in trouble.” Ronaldo, who has an 83 per cent career success rate from the penalty spot, hit the target once more against Ghana.

Macpherson, who has worked across top-level sport with the likes of Damon Hill and Pat Cash and is now mind coach at Bath Rugby, says that being able to fall back on a reliable routine is critical under the colossal pressure of a World Cup – particularly, for England’s players, with the side’s chequered shootout history.

“The more the players hear how bad England are at penalties the more they believe it. It is the danger of accidental hypnosis. The negative internal chatter – what the Chinese Buddhists call the monkey mind – pours petrol on that but there is a menu of tools to help deal with that,” said Macpherson who details his approach in his book ‘How To Master The Monkey Mind’. 

“It is the waiting before taking the walk of death to the penalty spot when you are a sitting target. But it’s no different to a golfer with a putt to win the Ryder Cup or a goalkicker with a last-minute kick to win the game.

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“I would have prepared a personal MP3 for them all of their perfect penalty for them to listen to in the lead-up to the match. And I’d have been working one to one on that visualisation and their breathing to control the adrenaline and keep the muscles nice and supple. 

“When learned the art of relaxed concentration will always protect the ‘just do it’ part of the brain and stop the emotional monkey mind from interfering.” Hopefully the Senegal game does not come down to penalties but if it does Macpherson has one last piece of advice for the England players.

They may be quaking inside but don’t show it. Try to con the opposition. And try to con themselves. “Even if they’re not the best penalty-taker in the world they should act as if they are. ‘Fake it ‘til you make it,’ as Muhammad Ali said.”

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