It’s the Final Countdown: 2 Days

We’re now a mere two days away from the kick off of South Africa 2010.

What other significance does that number hold? Two is the number of penalties missed by Frank Lampard in his last two attempts. That’s not the most encouraging stat going into the Cup, since England’s hexed history of penalties is no secret. He’s England’s main man from 12 yards, but is Lampard’s lapse in form from the penalty spot foreshadowing for another nightmare exit for the Three Lions?

Let’s travel back to the 2006 World Cup. That’s Mr. Lampard after his low shot to the right was saved by Portugal’s Ricardo in the quarter finals. He was denied after Simao gave the Portuguese the lead, and after Portugal missed its second attempt, England found an opportunity to level with Steven Gerrard. There are few guys you’d rather have in that situation than Stevie G with his quality and experience. Gerrard too went went right, and again, Ricardo denied an Englishman.

Even England’s only converted penalty saw Ricardo get a strong hand on it. And after Jamie Carragher thought he had given his side a glimmer of hope, the referee made him take the shot again for not waiting on the whistle. And surprise, surprise – Ricardo saved, and England crashed out of the World Cup.

There’s no arguing that penalties require as much, if not more, mental fortitude than physical precision, so it couldn’t have helped the Three Lions that they had their Euro 2004 penalties exit at the hands of Portugal just two years prior in the back of their heads as they went into penalties during the 2006 Cup.

But it wasn’t just that occasion working against their confidence. Penalties also knocked England out of Euro 1996. And the 1990 and 1998 World Cup. In fact, they’ve never won a penalty shootout in the World Cup. And while many dollars are exchange between hopefuls and bookies on who’s going to win a match, it’s even become quite the fad to bet on the odds of England exiting a tournament via penalties. You try stepping up to the penalty spot on the world’s biggest stage with a cursed history behind you and money banking on you to choke.

The curse has to be broken eventually, but it seems people can’t help but whisper about Lampard’s missed brace from the free spot in light of England’s elephant in the room. Reports confirm Frank is still England’s choice shooter, and the Chelsea man says his confidence isn’t shaken, but how could it not be?

Will Lampard’s two misses eventually prove to have been a dark foreboding for England, or will the Three Lions finally squash the curse and triumph? Time will tell, and I’m putting my money on getting a verdict somewhere around the quarters.

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