IT MAY WELL prove the biggest shock of the tournament: a German says it makes “precious little sense to practice penalties”.
And this wasn’t just any German. It was the man who was a key part to their last tournament victory and the perfect shoot-out that saw them eliminate England in the semi-final: current goalkeeping coach Andreas Koepke.
“I hated it [practicing penalties] myself,” he said today. “In training, the players just whack it. They do different things when it really counts. You can’t simulate the pressure the goalkeepers are under.”
Of course, given that Koepke was the man who handed Jens Lehmann the crib sheets for their successful 2006 shoot-out against Argentina and went on to say that the same pages have become more complex, this may all be something of a ruse.
“The crib sheets are being written. It will not be something like in the 2006 World Cup. We won’t give that away just yet. I know you’re disappointed but we won’t put all our cards on the table.”
More pointedly, Koepke then added, “Nothing is left to chance… and that includes penalty shoot-outs.”
Fail to prepare and all that.
Either way, Koepke said he couldn’t really criticise the team he helped eliminate 16 years.
“I’m far too removed from England to pass judgement [on their penalties]. England have an excellent keeper, which hasn’t necessarily been the case on previous occasions so it was all in their own hands. They were tragically unlucky and [Ashley] Young had a stinker with that penalty.”
But, while Koepke praised Hart, he didn’t quite put him in the top band of goalkeepers.
“Comparisons are loath, as they say… but [Iker] Casillas, [Gigi] Buffon and Manuel [Neuer] are the three best keepers in the world. There is nothing between them. Neuer is in his mid-20s and even now at the top level. He is clearly a pillar of strength between the posts.”
As for Andrea Pirlo’s penalty?
“That definitely was cheeky, especially as Italy were 1-0 down. As a goalkeeper, you don’t reckon anyone would ever dare of scoring a penalty like that. We don’t want to go through on penalties. We want to get to the final before then.”
Koepke, of course, was also involved in the only time that the Germans have actually eliminated semi-final opponents Italy in an international tournament: the 0-0 draw in the last game of the Euro ’96 group that sent one team through and the other out.
“It’s a long time ago, but it was a key match. I must admit a good dose of luck at the game. Italy were very strong on the day. But this is the past. I must admit, 2006 is even closer to now. We haven’t won against Italy in a tournament but we have every reason to be confident. We want to write another different chapter in history.”
And, presumably, one that doesn’t even involve a shoot-out.
“We don’t want to go through on penalties. We want to be in the final before then.”