Jordan Henderson: I hurt myself practising penalties at the World Cup

Jordan Henderson: I injured myself while practising penalties at the World Cup – but I still played on

  • David Ospina saved Jordan Henderson’s penalty against Colombia in 2018 
  • He admits the Three Lions had spoken to psychologists before the tournament 
  • England beat Colombia for just their first penalty shoot-out win at a World Cup
  • But Gareth Southgate’s side fell to a defeat at the hands of Luka Modric’s Croatia 
  • However Henderson has claimed that loss did not feel like the end for England

In one of three exclusive extracts from his new autobiography, the England and Liverpool midfielder reveals how he took part in the Russia 2018 semi-final with a tweaked groin after overtraining on his own.

It was late in Moscow. Tuesday, 3 July was about 10 minutes from turning into Wednesday, July 4 in the Spartak Stadium. I remember walking towards the penalty spot, juggling the ball with my right foot as I got to the edge of the area, trying to look calm. Actually, I was calm – relatively speaking, anyway. I felt okay because I’d practised my penalties.

We had all practised penalties. How could we not? Penalties and England in a major tournament seem to go hand in hand, and I was thinking back six years, to the night we played Italy in Kyiv in the quarter-finals of Euro 2012. I had been nervous about the possibility of being asked to step forward, but this time was different. I was ready for the situation and I felt confident.

England won their first ever penalty shoot-out at a World Cup beating Colombia in 2018

I was the third England penalty taker in the shoot-out with Colombia. Our second-round match at the 2018 World Cup had ended in a 1–1 draw after Yerry Mina scored a last-gasp equaliser at the end of normal time. Colombia had scored their first three kicks; Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford had scored our first two.

When you start that walk forward from the centre circle, you don’t think about history. The records of our teams in previous tournaments don’t matter, and it would hardly help to start running through what happened in years gone by. So that meant I wasn’t even thinking about Gareth Southgate, our manager, who was standing on the touchline in a waistcoat with his arm on the shoulder of his assistant, Steve Holland. 

Gareth had dealt with questions about missed penalties for twenty-two years, going back to what happened against Germany in the semi-final at Euro 96 when his kick in sudden death was saved by Andreas Kopke. He, more than anyone, did not want us thinking that way and we had been taught to concentrate on positivity.

Jordan Henderson was part of the Three Lions side that reached the semifinals in Russia

Our preparations could not have been better. We had spoken to psychologists. We were filmed practising our penalties in training and had studied the film. We had practised over and over and we knew who, statistically, our best takers were. I was one of them, and I was third in line.

So, no, I wasn’t thinking about ‘Football’s Coming Home’ or any of the scenes of wild celebration in England that we had been watching from our base near St Petersburg as we’d progressed through the group stage to this point. 

I know everyone who knew me would be sick with nerves when I began to walk forward, but it honestly never entered my head about how awful it would be if I failed with this penalty and it contributed to this journey coming to an end. I wasn’t thinking about the consequences of missing or people abusing me and singing, ‘You’ve let your country down’ – this was just another hurdle to get over.

I said that, statistically, I was one of our best takers, but something was telling me that Jamie Vardy was supposed to take our third that night. Gareth had brought him on a couple of minutes before the end of normal time, but it seemed like he had picked up an injury during extra time. Anyway, there was some reason his name was absent from the list. I wasn’t thinking about that either. No point.

Henderson appeared to be headbutt in the neck during the round of 16 clash with Colombia

I walked forward. I stopped juggling the ball and placed it down on the spot. I was feeling okay. I had adrenaline shooting through me and my mouth had gone a little bit dry, but that happens. That’s okay. That’s normal. I had a routine, and I was sticking to it. I was keeping my mind clear, using my routine to block out other thoughts and taking comfort in the routine. We had spoken about this process over and over again. I am sticking to my routine.

The last thing I wanted to be doing when I was walking up to the spot was to be thinking, ‘I can’t fucking miss this.’ I knew where I was going to put it. To his left. I was going to open my foot up and put it low in the corner. I had practised it. I’d practised it and practised it well. I followed my routine and did not waver, counting my steps back. One, two, three, four. I didn’t rush. 

Henderson featured five times at the tournament in 2018

I stood at the end of my run-up for a couple of seconds. Then I jogged to the spot. I ran forward and accelerated towards the point of contact. I hit the ball well. I felt it speed cleanly away from my right foot. I didn’t slip or mishit it and it felt good. But it wasn’t low. It wasn’t low enough. It was a good height for the goalkeeper – that’s what they always say when the goalkeeper saves it. And it was a good height for the goalkeeper David Ospina.

He guessed correctly. I saw his body lurch to his left. Actually, ‘lurch’ is unkind. His body darted to the left. He was agile and lithe and he got down fast – and his left hand reached for the ball. I saw his left hand hit the ball. 

I saw the ball loop up into the air, in what seemed like slow motion. I kept watching it. It spun up and it landed on the grass at the side of the goal and bounced over the advertising hoardings before it clipped a photographer who was standing there.

Ospina saved it. I had missed. Same difference. I had missed. That’s how it was going to be remembered. Jordan Henderson was the one who missed. ‘A missed penalty by Jordan Henderson saw England knocked out of the Cup tonight,’ they would say. I could hear it already. I hear someone shouting it in my head.

I turned and cursed and kept my eyes down. Inside, I was dying. My world was crashing down. Football is everything to me. England is everything to me, so if I missed a penalty in the World Cup and it meant we got knocked out of the World Cup, how was I going to cope with that? I couldn’t think as I walked back towards the red shirts waiting for me on the halfway line. 

I felt their sympathy and their dread. I walked towards Harry and Marcus. Everyone knew there was nothing they could say to make this better. I tried to remain calm but, inside, all kind of thoughts were taking over. I’d let everybody down – the manager, my team-mates, my family. In fact, I had let the whole of England down. A couple of the lads said, ‘It’s all right; it’ll be all right.’ All I was thinking was, ‘I can’t go back to England if we lose this.’

I mean, I was literally thinking that. For a few seconds, I was thinking, I’ll never go back to England – that’s it. My England career? Over. Life as it exists? Over. I was never going back. How could I go back? I’d let the whole nation down. Then hope gripped me. Mateus Uribe walked up to the spot to take Colombia’s fourth penalty. He looked nervous, too. He bent down to place the ball on the spot and kissed it before he lay it on the turf. In my head, four words began repeating over and over: please, Jordan – save it.

The midfielder was substituted at half-time as England bowed out in the semifinals in 2018

Uribe took a couple of deep breaths. He still looked nervous. Next thing, he ran up and smacked the shit out of the ball. Jordan didn’t save it, but it crashed against the underside of the crossbar and bounced out. Oh my God! I could breathe again; I could actually breathe again. We were back in it, and the relief was overwhelming. It’s temporary, but it’s overwhelming.

Kieran Trippier was next up. He’s frightening with the dead ball. He’s one of our best on free kicks. He ran up and slammed the ball high to the keeper’s right. It was our best penalty so far and we had levelled things up. I felt a bit more relieved. Carlos Bacca took the fifth for Colombia. He stood at the top of his run-up, legs planted and spread wide, like Cristiano Ronaldo might. He hit it well, towards the right of Jordan’s goal. I was looking at it, thinking, ‘Hang on – this is a good height.’

Jordan almost guessed too well. The ball was behind him, but he flung up his left hand instinctively as he fell and somehow he made it a strong enough hand to stop the ball and keep it out. It was the first time an England goalkeeper had saved a penalty in a World Cup shoot-out since David Seaman stopped one from Hernán Crespo twenty years ago in Saint-Étienne.

We ran forward, some of us, from our thin red line, unable to control our excitement. Just a few steps. Then we stopped and regrouped. We put our arms around each other’s shoulders again. My mind was working overtime. I asked Harry Kane for assurance – are we through if we score? We checked what the score was and Harry nodded. We got back in our red line, me next to Marcus.

England reached the last four of the World Cup for only the third time four years ago in Russia

Eric Dier walked up to the spot. Before the tournament began, people had been talking about how maybe he and I were in competition for one spot in midfield. But now we were both on the pitch and I had everything invested in him. Come on, Eric. 

Please . . . I noticed Ospina was standing a little off centre again, in the same spot he stood in for our first penalty, Harry’s penalty. He’s daring Eric to put it to the right, just like he dared Harry to do it. Eric takes the dare. He hits it to Ospina’s right. Ospina goes for it. He can’t reach it. We had won.

I was sipping from a bottle of energy drink. I froze – I didn’t move. The bottle stayed at my lips. Everyone else was running. The red line had dissolved. Marcus ripped his arm away from my shoulder and took off. People were running to Jordan, people were running to Eric. People were running to Gareth. 

I couldn’t run. I just fell to my knees. It was relief, just overwhelming relief. We had escaped. I had escaped. Life wasn’t over! We were in the quarter-finals of the World Cup, and it was Sweden next, in Samara, on Saturday.

Eventually I got up. I ran to join the other lads, who had gone to the end where most of the England fans had congregated and had all piled on top of each other. It was bedlam, the joy was washing all over us, and you just knew this night had the potential to be spoken about for years to come. It didn’t matter now that I’d missed a penalty. I was the guy who got bailed out by his mates.

The Liverpool midfielder will play in his third World Cup with his country in Qatar in November

‘I apologise to back home, to anybody who skipped a heartbeat,’ I said to a television camera.

I did a post-match interview with Gabriel Clarke for ITV.

‘Your old Sunderland mate, Jordan Pickford, has got you off the hook tonight, hasn’t he?’ he said.

I was grinning by now. ‘Big time,’ I say.

You’d think that was the end of me and penalties, wouldn’t you? But it wasn’t. Now I was obsessed. I was thinking to myself that I couldn’t let it happen again. I couldn’t miss again. I couldn’t. I couldn’t face the thought of losing everything again. We got back to Repino. We only did a light session, a recovery session. We were still tired after the game and after the ordeal and the emotional release. The session ended. The other boys went in. I didn’t.

I stayed out. I practised penalty after penalty after penalty. I can’t miss another one. I can’t. So now I’m convincing myself I’m a bad taker. Each one I practised, I thought was too high, too low, too close to the middle or that it was a good height for the keeper. I knew I was overthinking things, but I was obsessed. In the end, Steve Holland came over and yelled at me to get inside.

Luke Modric won the Ballon d’Or in 2018 and lead his country to the World Cup final in Russia

The next day, I woke up and got out of bed. My groin was tight. For fuck’s sake! It felt sore. I had injured myself taking penalties. I trained with the rest of the lads. I could feel it was tight, but I wasn’t going to say anything to any- one because I knew how I’d done it and I felt stupid. 

It’s okay, anyway. It’s okay. It’s just a scare. So we played Sweden. It was a World Cup quarter-final, but it was straightforward. It wasn’t easy, but it was straightforward. We won 2–0. Two headers from Dele and Harry Maguire. I could feel my groin, tight from taking too many penalties, but it didn’t impede me. We were into the semi-final. This, for all of us, was childhood dream territory.

We were playing Croatia in the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. They were good. Modric, Rakitic, Mandzukic, Perisic. Good, technical players. Modric is the best of them, the only guy to win the Ballon d’Or apart from Messi or Ronaldo for about a hundred years. But I was still thinking about penalties. If the semi-final went to penalties, I needed to be ready. So I practised some more penalties – seriously. The whole team practised this time.

Mario Mandzukic scored in extra time to condemn England to a heartbreaking defeat 

I took a few pens. After one of them, I felt my groin twinge again and it gave me a fright. Imagine missing a World Cup semi-final after injuring yourself practising penalties/. How would that look? I had some treatment and it felt OK. There was a bit of discomfort, but not much, and thankfully I was fit to play. But I was still obsessed with the idea that if the semi-final went to a penalty shootout again, I needed to score.

We started well, so well. It was the kind of start you would have if you were writing a story. Tripps scored in the sixth minute with a free kick that he curled and dipped over the top of the Croatia wall. We should have gone 2–0 up, but Harry Kane has a shot cleared off the line. Still, we were leading at half-time. We were 45 minutes from the World Cup final.

Then we were 22 minutes from the World Cup final. But Croatia came into the game more and more and the momentum changed. Modric had gone up a gear and we couldn’t deal with their width. They were switching the play and, when we got the ball, we couldn’t get it out wide. Then our world changes. 

They cross a ball into the box, Tripps goes to head it, but Perisic’s foot is high and he gets his high foot to it first; it goes into the net off the underside of his foot. I wonder if it’s going to be disallowed for dangerous play. It isn’t.

They nearly scored again. Perisic cuts in off the flank and hits the face of the post. It comes out. They got the rebound, but they hit it straight at Pickford. He caught it and we were still in it. Still level. It went to extra time.

The Croatia side boasted a wealth of talent including Ivan Perisic and Ivan Rakitic (right)

John Stones had a header cleared off the line. I started to feel my groin. My penalty taker’s groin. It’s the seventh minute of extra time and we made a substitution. I looked over at the touchline. My number came up on the electronic board. I walked over; Eric came on for me.

 We got to half-time of extra time. Still level. Still anybody’s. Maybe Croatia had the edge. Pickford makes a save from Mandzukic. Then Perisic nods a ball on, Mandzukic gets it behind and sweeps it into our goal. Eleven minutes left. We couldn’t get it back. We didn’t quite have enough.

The whistle goes and it’s over. In a way, though, it wasn’t over. No one thought we’d get that far. Not after 2014. Not after Iceland and the embarrassment in Nice. This felt like a different England now, a new England. Maybe I had been watching too many of the scenes from back home, but it felt as if the fans had fallen in love with us again and the reconnection that Gareth was looking for had been established. 

Nothing will ever ease the pain of losing a World Cup semi-final, don’t get me wrong. But coming back from Moscow, it didn’t feel like the end. It felt like the beginning.

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