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Penalty Shoot-Outs – ‘A Focus On The Sticks’

Penalty - Football's black hole ?
Penalty – Football’s black hole ?

It is a football topic that polarises both football and many non-football supporters. Many love the theatre and contrasting emotions that a penalty shoot-out brings to opposing teams, officials and more importantly the fans. From a goalkeeping perspective it focuses on the man in box and gives them a chance to shine or to start looking for the largest rock to hide for rest of humanity. The sheer nature of penalties in determining a match gives rise to the argument of it being unjust after a long battle of regular and extra time. Others believe it gives a chance to teams who have fought their way back into a contest. Before the advent of penalty shoot-outs, matches that remained level at the final whistle were more often than not decided by a coin toss or a replay.

There have been many outspoken critics of the shoot-out since its inception such as the great Brazilian manager Luiz Felipe Scolari who described it as a “lottery rather than a test of skill”. Even the controversial FIFA President Sepp Blatter has voiced his opinion saying that “Football is a team sport and penalties is not a team, it is the individual.” He recently stated “Football can be a tragedy when you go to penalty kicks. Football should not go to one to one, when it goes to penalty kicks, football loses its essence.”

The brief history and the development of the penalty shoot out in deciding the outcome of tournament and many league cup matches dates back to the Yugoslav Cup from 1952, but it was Israeli Yosef Dagan who floated the idea of the penalty shoot-out following his homeland losing a 1968 Olympic quarter final by the drawing of lots. Dagan’s proposal to FIFA was accepted by the International Football Association Board (IFAB) at the AGM on 27 June 1970.

It is understood that the first penalty shoot-out in a professional match occurred in 1970 between Hull City and Manchester United in a semi-final of the Watney Cup. The Watney Cup was a short lived pre-season tournament that saw the two top teams with the highest goal aggregate in the four divisions do battle. It was in this game that the legendary George Best was the player credited with the first kick in a penalty shoot-out.


George Best the man himself with Jim Platt before the goalkeeper's testimonial game
George Best the man himself with Jim Platt before the goalkeeper’s testimonial game

The very first international tournament winner to be decided by a penalty shoot-out was in the 1976 European Championship final match where Czechoslovakia took on the might of West Germany. It was the Czechs who ran out winners that day 5-3 and helped secure the shoot-out as the preferred method over scheduling replays.

With the advent of the penalty shoot-out has come the obvious disappointments to many international football sides.  The most famous teams to continually falter at the last hurdle are the English, Dutch and Italian sides. The most infamous of shoot-out records falls with the England national team. Since the UEFA Euro ’96 Tournament England have lost five shoot-outs in succession in eight major tournament finals. It has long been known that for England to win a title they need to shake the shoot-out curse as their only taste of success last occurred in their quarterfinal clash against Spain in Euro ’96. The most memorable of England’s penalty misery occurred when David Beckham sprayed his shot over the bar into the crowd against Portugal at the Euro 2004 tournament. Their poor record continued again last year at the Euro’s when they lost out to Italy 4-2 after Ashley Young and Ashley Cole both missed their attempts. What was memorable about that encounter is the way Italy’s Andrea Pirlo with ice running through his veins casually chipped his shot past the England Joe Hart.

For now it seems the penalty shoot is the necessary evil existing in the world game and to me seems the most equitable solution to a match ending in stalemate beyond regular and extra time. As cruel as the final outcome can be to the players and fans, it does provide the game with great theatre and suspense. After watching the Euro 12 clash in the early morning hours at my favourite Italian restaurant in Brisbane’s café precinct it is plain to see that the both sets of fans embrace it as a necessary evil. The Italian fans were euphoric in their celebrations as the England supporters had to deal with the disappointment of yet another cruel loss. One thing is for sure that however the game is decided it will never extinguish the passion and love of the game.

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