Sat | Nov 18, 2017

Penalties are the best way

Published:Thursday | September 25, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Hubert Lawrence

Sometimes you have to ignore the purists. For decades, they've nattered on about penalties being bad for games undecided after extra time. Recently, they've gone quiet, and with good reason.

They used to say penalties turn the game into a lottery. That, of course, is poppycock. In the 2014 World Cup, four of the 16 knockout games came down to penalties. In all those cases, the action was fast, furious and exciting.

Sport sets out to entertain and the penalty shoot-out provides entertainment aplenty.

Superstars like Baggio, Platini and Socrates all blotted their copybooks by missing important penalties. By contrast, a successful one made a French national hero of Luis Fernandez when he buried his spot kick against Brazil in the World Cup in 1986. Score or miss, those famous shoot-outs had fans on the edge of their seats.

Sometimes, the shoot-out makes heroes out of goalkeepers. Liverpool custodian Jerzy Dudek saved two in the 2005 European Champions League final.

Sometimes it works the other way. In a Capitol Cup match involving Liverpool and Middlesbrough on Tuesday, 27 penalties flew in with the two goalkeepers among the scorers. Both teams showed great skill and composure.

Great skill and composure

Those are two attributes professional players should master. When they practise and perfect their skills and train their minds to focus through the pressure, there's no lottery.

Taking penalties is a skill and there's no greater skill for the sportsman than performing well under pressure.

In the United States of America (USA), there was an experiment with another method of resolving games in deadlock. The goalkeeper would defend against an opponent dribbling from the halfway line. The results could be artful or farcical.

The experiment died a natural death and the penalty shoot-out reigns supreme.

Look more closely and you'll find that penalties are a perfect blend of team skill at goalscoring and individual presence of mind. Get the blend right and you have Holland's 4-3 penalty win over Costa Rica in the World Cup quarter-finals. Get it wrong and you have instead the messy Dutch exit in the semi-finals against Argentina.

Misses are dramatic and like the post-hitting miss in the Brazil-Costa Rica World Cup encounter, they can decide games by the width of a post. Whether they go in or miss, penalties have fans riveted to the action. You might go to the bathroom during the regulation 90 minutes or during extra time. You'd never do that during penalties.

Pressure of time will eventually eliminate the replay. In big tournaments, the replay hasn't ever been practical. There simply isn't time. Having teams play multiple periods of extra time, NBA style, isn't practical either. The football pitch is just too big for that to be safe from a health and wellness perspective.

So you, Mister Football Coach, are left with the penalty shoot-out for those games that couldn't be settled in 120 minutes. Deal with it like Germany. The Germans have so developed their penalty-taking skills that they have never lost a World Cup shoot-out.

Failing that, you can watch Liverpool's 14-13 shoot-out win over Middlesbrough and see how it should be done.

Hubert Lawrence correctly predicted the results of 15 of the 16 knockout games in the recent World Cup, including the final.