Connect in the back of the net

Drogba with the winning penalty in the Champions League final (Taken from the Wall Street Journal)

It is one of the most anticipated moments in football, yet also one of the most the most feared. One of the most climactic moments, yet potentially one of the most disappointing. One of the most emphatic moments, but only if you’re not an England fan.

That’s right; I’m talking about penalty shoot-outs. 

The penalty shootout was formally introduced in June 1970, although there had been variants of the modern shootout used before (the Copa Italia, the Yugoslav Cup, and even a silver medal playoff game in the Bolivarian Games). 

It was first used in an English game in the Watney Cup, between Manchester United and Hull City. Hull’s keeper Ian McKechnie hit his shot over, giving United the first ever penalty win. 

The European Championship was the first major international tournament to use the penalty shootout; Czechoslovakia and West Germany faced off in 1976, with the Czech winning 5-3, after a 2-2 draw AET.

The penalty has since been etched into English and International Cups. Liverpool’s 3-2 penalty win over Cardiff in February was the 3rd penalty shootout in the competition since 2001. Both Italy and Brazil have won World Cup’s on penalties, and 9 separate Champion League Finals have been decided by spotkicks.

So what is the appeal of penalties? They’re perhaps the most suspenseful part of football. Thousands, if not millions of people wait with baited breath for one person with the world on his shoulders to send the ball into the net from 12 yards. 

They’re also dreaded, yet expected, with 2 minutes to go of extra time and the score still tied. They’re extremely unpredictable, as we’ve seen over and over again. 

The most recent example I can think of is APOEL, Champion League minnows from Cyprus, who beat French champions Lyon in a penalty shootout. You can never tell who’s going to win a penalty shootout. The mental battle between goalkeeper and player is something so delicate, yet so influential. 

So as you can see by my little rant in the last paragraph, penalties are wicked (in layman’s terms). But are they wicked enough to keep?

Despite the popularity of penalties in the modern game, there is a growing anti-penalty movement among the masses. Various solutions are being thrown forward, and even FIFA has attempted some alternatives in order to get rid of the penalty shootout. 

“Golden Goals” and “Silver Goals” were tried in the late 90’s and the early ‘00s, but however have since dropped dramatically in popularity: normal extra-time is apparently more liked among the masses.

South Korea’s Ahn celebrating his “Golden Goal” against Italy in the 2002 World Cup (Taken from the Telegraph)

Other alternatives have been proposed, such as ADG (Attacker Defender Goalkeeper), Crossbar Challenges, or even deciding the game based on the amount of possession, corners, shots on goal, or even having the referee decide the winner of the game (Bad news for whose ever team has Joey Barton on it). But are these as good or better than what we already have? 

When I started writing this, I wanted to talk about how I’d rather a different method than penalty shootouts. 

However, after watching the penalty shootout between Chelsea and Bayern Munich in the Champions League Final, I’ve realized that, when it comes down to it, nothing beats the exhilaration of watching Bastian Schweinsteiger hit the post: Well, maybe that’s just cause I’m English.

And besides, Sepp Blatter may want an alternative to penalties in football; but everybody in football wants an alternative to Sepp Blatter anyway.

Written by Cormac O’Brien
Follow me on Twitter @obrienfootball

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