Thursday, 10 July 2014
2014 World Cup: Today's Talking Point - The Pain of Penalties
Penalties are like democracy, which, in the words of Winston Churchill, 'is the worst form of government, except for all the others.' For the neutral, they provide thrilling entertainment, for the team that wins, they are wonderful; for the team that doesn't they are crushing. And either way, you have to live with the result.
But what is the alternative? Knock-out games need a result. You could make the teams play on and on and on, adding further periods of extra time by the half hour until there is a result. This gives the opposition time to reply and sets a fair expectation - as in those interminable tie-breaks in tennis. You could go for the 'golden goal' option (this used to be called 'sudden death' but the term was deemed to have 'negative connotations' and removed from use in 1993) as FIFA have sometimes done.
This was basically a 'next goal wins' scenario whereby if the match was drawn at the end of normal time, there were two extra halves of 15 minutes played each way and if a goal was scored in this time then the game was won instantly. If not, the match then proceeded to penalties. Detractors complained that this led teams to play defensively (as if this were a bad thing) focusing on not conceding a goal rather than scoring one.
Then there was the 'silver goal' introduced in 2002, whereby if a team scored in extra time, that half was concluded and the game was not stopped automatically, but if the goal had come in the first half, then the second half wasn't played. Furthermore, it was up to each tournament to decide which rules they were going to implement. Confusing? Yes, well that might well be why FIFA resorted to penalties.
Some say penalties are a lottery. Not really. If you are going into a tournament that may be decided on penalties (and a fifth of all World Cup knock-out matches since 1974 have been decided on penalties), then you practice taking them, and the side that performs best at penalties wins. This is proven by empirical evidence.
England have been involved in three penalty shoot-outs at the World Cup; they have lost all of them. After their shoot-out defeat (by Argentina) in 1998, manager Glenn Hoddle admitted that his squad had not practiced taking penalties. Prior to the 2014 World Cup, England had lost more penalty shoot-outs than any other nation. Incidentally the teams that have won most penalty shoot-outs in the World Cup are Argentina and Germany. Bring on the final.