England head coach Sarina Wiegman held a piece of paper in her hand and peered down at a black iPad, held by England goalkeeping coach Darren Ward. To her left was her trusted assistant, Arjan Veurink. They were confirming the five players to take penalties after 120 minutes of football against Nigeria in the Women’s World Cup round of 16 had failed to produce a winner.

“We have talked about the psychology and execution of a penalty,” Wiegman said later. “This is the hardest pressure — when you have to take a penalty in front of 45,000 people. The consequences of missing or (you) score, it’s huge. So we have talked about that psychology as individuals and as a team. We just tried to prepare as well as possible.”

England have been working on their penalty-taking methods since well before winning the European Championship last summer.

Against Nigeria in Brisbane on Monday, their process started the moment the whistle blew to signal the end of extra time…

‘Calm’ and ‘control’ before the shootout

The Dutch duo of Wiegman and Veurink went away to talk to the nine outfield players — with England having been one short following Lauren James’ 87th-minute red card for a stamp on Michelle Alozie.

They huddled up in a circle. Wiegman and Veurink positioned themselves between those who would take the first five penalties and the rest, creating a clear divide.

To Wiegman’s right stood the four initial non-penalty takers: Lucy Bronze, Katie Zelem, Jess Carter and Millie Bright. To her left were those on her list: Georgia Stanway, Alex Greenwood, Chloe Kelly, Rachel Daly (who was lying down receiving a massage to her left leg) and Bethany England (brought on at half-time in extra time).

Both coaches spoke calmly but emphatically — especially Wiegman, who was reinforcing key messages at the heart of England’s penalty-taking process. ‘Calm’ and ‘control’ are buzzwords that come back to the head coach and Veurink: they aim to remain cool on the sideline and hope to transmit that to the players.

Ward, meanwhile, refilled Earps’ water bottle and took her aside one on one, holding up his iPad to show her snippets of information about Nigeria’s spot kicks.

The clear air of organisation contrasted with Nigeria’s team talk, which extended to substitutes and staff gathered on the touchline, but also England’s previous penalty shootout in April’s Finalissima against South American champions Brazil.

That night at Wembley, the order of England’s takers changed at the last minute thanks to Bronze, who told Wiegman to bump Kelly up to the fifth penalty taker. The chosen five in Brisbane were the same as the Finalissima, and in the same order, save for one — England replaced Ella Toone, who did not play against Nigeria.

Newly appointed captain Bright spoke briefly to Ward before participating in the coin tosses to decide the end of the pitch where the penalties would be taken and which team would go first in the shootout. She won both and chose Earps’ preferred end and for England to take the opening penalty (it is a long-established theory that the team who go first in a shootout are more likely to win it).



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England were proactive in their approach and they were the first of the teams to enter the centre circle. When Nigeria got there, they had to adapt to the position of England’s players, who had already set themselves up in a long line — a small but significant detail.

“The staff have spoken about the positioning within the centre circle,” England’s record goalscorer Ellen White told the BBC’s coverage of the game. “(About) Being more in front, rather than on the halfway line, have a stance, celebrating every goal scored, having that togetherness.”

Taking their time

Given the attention to detail and meticulous planning of Wiegman and Veurink, it is no surprise England left nothing to chance.

The England men’s team’s history of poor penalty performances led the Football Association (FA) to “put a really systematic focus on penalties,” the body’s former head of team strategy and performance Dave Reddin told The Athletic in 2021.

One finding the FA pounced on was English male players’ tendency to rush their penalties during a shootout.

“It often seemed to be the case that the players who missed penalties were the ones who, under pressure, responded to the referee’s whistle as if it was a starting gun,” said Reddin. “It isn’t. It’s a signal that you’re allowed to take the kick. We found that, in terms of the optimum time after the whistle is blown, there was a sweet spot of around three to five seconds.”

Although at the end of 2020, for the first time, the Lionesses had a separate technical performance strategy from the men’s department, they do seem to have taken on these key learnings.

Each player who stepped up today took their time, between two and six seconds, and a deep breath. For context, in his book, Twelve Yards: The Art and Psychology of the Perfect Penalty Kick, published in 2014, Ben Lyttleton found England’s male players over previous shootouts had made their move, on average, just 0.28 seconds after the whistle.

Time between whistle and penalty taken

Player | Time (s)

Georgia Stanway


Bethany England


Rachel Daly


Alex Greenwood


Chloe Kelly


“The important thing to tell the players was that they were in control,” said Reddin. “They decide when to take the kick. That’s down to them — not the referee, not the goalkeeper. They’re in control.”

Greenwood was laser-focused. “No doubt about it,” she said in the mixed zone after scoring her penalty, England’s fourth. “We practice them in training, I practice personally, and we’ve got some very good penalty takers. We proved that tonight.”



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Mind games and body language

The mind games are part of England’s process. Earps and Bronze, big personalities and bold in nature, will lead those – the squad’s masters of ‘shithousery’.

“(Lucy) will do whatever she wants, whatever it takes to win,” Earps told The Athletic earlier this year. “We’re both not shy. If we can get an edge in any way then we’ll definitely do it.”

For instance, Bronze took up her position on the far right of England’s line today, meaning she was closest to the penalty spot and directly in Nigeria goalkeeper Chiamaka Nnadozie’s line of sight. She waved her right arm as she waited on the halfway line, doing anything she could to distract Nnadozie.

Earps went up to Nigeria’s first penalty taker, Desire Oparanozie (who sent her shot wide), and, later on, also handed her England team-mates the ball as they arrived for their turn — another repeated action that is part of their process, and a familiar sight with the men’s team too.

“Body language is one (aspect),” said Wiegman. “And also supporting each other, we stand with each other. They stuck together.”

When Stanway missed the shootout’s first penalty, Carter was there to console her. Equally, when England scored, each taker, even the more reserved characters such as Greenwood, made a point to celebrate hard — something not so often seen in the women’s game.

When Nigeria missed their first two, even though Earps did not get a touch to either, she came off her goal line, arms outstretched, tongue rolling.

knew england were going through as soon as I saw this pic.twitter.com/Q8DyKMDN1z

— lauren corelli / loco (@corelliLAUREN) August 7, 2023

“I do my own research, and I’m not going to reveal it here,” she told The Athletic. “It is a free shot from 12 yards, so the striker should score every single time. My job is to make it as difficult as possible and give myself the best chance to save it. We definitely prepared for penalties.”

Kelly’s hop, skip and thump

After missing their first one, England went on to dispatch three top-class penalties to take control. The last was left for Kelly, whose run-up was idiosyncratic to say the least.

After a rub of the lips and a pause, Kelly stood with her left knee high and her right leg bolt upright. She hopped onto her left foot, took one step with her right, planted her left and thwacked the ball into the back of the net at 110.79 km/h (68.84mph).

“Fire and ice,” said her former Everton manager Kirk of Kelly last year. “She takes penalties under pressure, definitely has ice in her veins and plays with a lot of fire.”

It is a unique technique and one she has used, says Kirk, ever since she joined Everton on loan from Arsenal as an 18-year-old in 2016. Indeed, it is a muscle movement Kelly will always go through when she comes on as a substitute, too.

“‘I’m going to score’ — that is how I look at it,” said Kelly, whose penalty is the fastest shot of the tournament so far, recorded thanks to the technology inside the Adidas Oceaunz ball, although it will not count for official leaderboards as it was part of a shootout not the regular flow of a game.

“Once I win that mental battle – we are good. Anything that’s thrown at us, we show what we are capable of. We dig deep as a group and we believe in our ability. It’s the team. This team is special. We did it in the Euros, we did it in the Finalissima and we did it tonight. And there is more to come.”

(Top photo: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)