SVEN-GORAN Eriksson. Cup quarter-final. The question had to be asked. Sven, have your team practised penalties?
Of course, during his time as England head coach, Eriksson took the nation to three successive quarter-finals at major championships. At Euro 2004 and Deutschland 2006, England went out on penalties. (How heady those days seem now.)
But it’s Tottenham, not Portugal, in tomorrow night’s Carling Cup quarter-final. It’s a different game. Same question, though. So has Sven made special preparations for a penalty shoot-out?
“No, we haven’t done that,” he said at today’s press conference ahead of the game. “I hope it doesn’t go to extra-time and penalties, but we have a lot of good penalty takers, so it shouldn’t be a problem.
“When a game goes to penalties, in one way, it’s not a football match any more. It’s a penalty shoot-out.
“You can never practise it really. It’s one thing taking them in a training session. Everyone scores in a training session.
“But when you are in the quarter-final of a World Cup for example, the pressure is on the players is very special and you can never prepare for that. The pressure is never on the goalkeeper.
“If it goes to penalties, the most cold-headed team will win.”
And if it does go to penalties, Joe Hart will be the goalkeeper charged with the responsibility of trying to keep out Tottenham’s spot-kicks. Eriksson decided some time ago that Hart would step in for Andreas Isaksson for the Carling Cup quarter-final, but it’s a decision that now looks loaded with significance.
I met Hart in Manchester late last week for an interview, and he came across as a very cool-headed young goalkeeper, unfazed by the three-division step-up he took from Shrewsbury in 2006, and ready to take any challenge that Premier League life might want to throw at him.
He’s only 20, but his calm authority seems to have impressed Eriksson too. Sven spoke at the press conference about ending his goalkeeper rotation policy this week, and finally making a definitive decision on who is his first choice: Hart or Isaksson.
Eriksson also said that he will be playing his strongest side tomorrow night. And Hart is in it.
You can never be sure with football managers when it comes to team selections: there’s often enough bluff and counter-bluff in the information they do give out to baffle a world poker champion.
But Eriksson has been pretty open about his goalkeeping selections since arriving at City, and that’s why it’s tempting to put a bet on Hart claiming the goalkeeper’s jersey in the long term.
Hart himself dropped into the press conference today, and said all the right things.
“I think the manager’s been fair,” he said. “He’s given Kasper his opportunity, he’s given me my opportunity and Andreas the same.
“When he makes the decision, whoever he chooses, everyone else can accept that they’ve had their fair share of chances to show what they can do.
“Of course. I want to be playing. I’ve wanted to play since I came here. I only got one game last season.
“But it’s not quite as simple as that. There’s only one goalkeeping spot available. I’ve been lucky enough to get a few games this year, and I hope I’ll get a few more towards the end.
“Regardless of whether he’s made a decision about anything, I just want to play well. I want to play well every time I play, and I want to win games for Manchester City.”
Come on, Joe, you must have an inkling as to which way Sven’s leaning?
“No, no, nothing. I’ve kept out of it, really, and tried to let the football do the talking.”
OK, we’ll have to wait to see who plays against Aston Villa on Saturday. Just make sure you’re ready for those penalties, Joe.