Gareth Southgate’s penalty heartache has become his greatest strength, explains Stuart Pearce

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Stuart Pearce reckons Gareth Southgate's Euro 96 penalty heartache against Germany will have "sharpened his focus" heading into their Euro 2020 clash against Joachim Low's men.

Since it was announced that both teams were drawn against each other in the last 16, the narrative in the lead up has been the possibility of it going beyond 90 minutes and extra time, just like it did in 96.

England boss Southgate was in action for his country that day, but wasn't one to remember as he missed a crucial spot-kick as the Germans advanced from the shootout to reach the final.

But Pearce, who played alongside the Three Lions manager in that game, reckons that experience actually gives England an edge as he will be able to better prepare his squad for the possibility it goes to penalties.

Pearce, who is working with Weetabix, told Mirror Football: "I think he's learned from it definitely. It sharpened his focus as an international manager as one who could be taking his team into a penalty shootout.

"I see it as a major strength, his history from the penalty spot, as much as it was with myself.

Stuart Pearce consols Gareth Southgate after his penalty miss
(Image: Action Images)

Who will have the edge between England and Germany if it goes to a shootout? Comment below

"I think it play into England's hands. I think we saw it in 2018 when they beat Colombia in a shootout, you could tell by the fact Jordan Pickford was one of the takers, they had done their homework.

"If it does go to a penalty shootout, I would reasonably comfortable that England have done as best as they possibly can in preparing for it."

Asked if he thinks the disappointment in 96 can help Southgate prepare his players, he added: "I do. Unless you have suffered any form of adversity, it probably doesn't overly sharpen your focus. He would have imparted all his wisdom from his time representing England in a shootout that time.

"I'm sure they have talked through scenarios and practiced scenarios. England will be prepared but hopefully, they will win over 90 minutes. If it is longer than that, whatever it takes to get over the line. I think it's going to be a sensational game and a really exciting one to watch. There is a lot of tension there but this group of players have their chance to create their own history."

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Pearce reckons England will just edge it, but they'll need to handle the resulting pressure if they progress since they are in the easier side of the draw.

He said: "I think it's gonna be a really close affair, I think England are going to just edge it. There is a little anticipation in the air but if England get the desired result, it could take off with the expectation that could come with that.

"I think everyone has looked at this side of the draw, and even though it won't be easy with Germany, the fact Belgium and Italy over the other side makes it seem a bit easier.

"I think it will be a great occasion it always is. It's all up for grabs now."

Southgate has come in for some criticism following their stalemate against Scotland, but either side of it, there were two solid performances and Croatia and Czech Republic that helped them progress from Group D as winners.

And Pearce reckons the backlash been blown out of proportion. Of course, he thinks they can improve, but he believes that they will the deeper they go.

Southgate was inconsolable after his penalty miss
(Image: EMPICS Sport)

Looking at it from a defensive point of view, he also feels the fact they have not conceded a goal yet has gone a little under the radar.

He added: "We've played three games and not conceded a goal as of yet. I've played against Scotland on four occasions and none of those games were pretty I can assure you. Even the one in 96, it was only illuminated by the brilliance of Gascoigne.

"England will have been disappointed but I look at it from a wider viewpoint, you look at the clean sheets and the performances in the first and third games which were reasonably impressive. There is more to come from them and I think they will get better as the tournament goes along."

Southgate's team selection has also come into question with Jack Grealish left out of the first two games and Jadon Sancho only getting a cameo against the Czechs.

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England's strength and depth means there are always going to be tough calls to be made, but the former Manchester City defender reckons he has actually got them all spot on.

He points to the impressive display of Kieran Tripper at left-back against Croatia, the bold move to start Bukayo Saka against the Czechs who was awarded man of the match and the reintegration of Harry Maguire from injury that also paid off.

He added: '"The beauty of the England squad is that they have strength and depth.

"Personally, I think his selections have been very, very good. Tripper played well at left-back n the opener and Shaw played well when he came in. Saka was a brave decision but he was arguably the man of the match in that game. I don't think after the Croatia game there were any complaints about his team selection then.

"I think his selection has been very good, but the strength and depth of the squad is that good, you could say 'is there much difference between a Mount or a Grealish on any given day'? The same can be said about Saka and Sancho, he has great options, especially in the advanced areas. He also showed confidence in including Mings after not playing so well in the friendlies leading up to it.

"Then he made the judgement call with Maguire against Czech Republic and that paid off so all of his calls have been very good."

* Stuart Pearce is working with Weetabix, the official breakfast cereal of the England national team who has partnered with the UK Nation’s Football Associations to bring the nation a summer filled with fab football prizes. The ‘WIN WITH WEETABIX’ promotion runs from 4th May – 1st October 2021. Find out more here: http://www.winwithweetabix.co.uk/

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