Saturday, 27 June 2015

Agonizing, Punishing, Unfair... Why I Detest Penalty Shoot-Outs & The Alternatives

Above: dejected French players Kheira Hamraoui, Amadine Henry, Laura Georges & Arnel Majori react after they lost against Germany in the penalty shoot-out during the women's world cup 2015 quarter-final match (EFE/EPA/Andre Pichette) 

The Women's World Cup quarter-final match-up between France and Germany was end-to-end stuff; it was pulsating, exciting, full of missed opportunities for both teams, but also it remained 1-1 after extra time. 

As a result, the game had to be settled one way or another. Actually, no, it had to be settled the only way, which was penalty shoot-outs. France went out, and I almost shed a tear for them, because they came so close to winning (they played well throughout this tournament), only for victory to be snatched away from them in the end. Having said that, they had plenty of opportunities to score before it went to penalties, not forgetting they had their key player in Tomis substituted in the second half, which really was a poor tactical decision by the manager. It backfired for the French and resulted in Germany scoring to draw 1-1 and going into extra time and later on, penalties. 

What is a penalty shoot out?

A sudden death penalty shoot-out is a method in determining the winner of a football/soccer match that has ended in a (stalemate) draw after 90 mins and an additional 30 mins extra-time. 

How does the penalty shoot-out work?

Each player from each team take it in turns in kicking a ball from the marked penalty spot against an unmarked goalkeeper of the opposing side. It usually starts and ends with 5 rounds. The goalkeeper is rooted in the centre of the goal and s/he has to decide when to dive and make the save from the shooter. The team that scores the most penalties wins. Unlike in a penalty in a match, once the penalty has been taken, it cannot be retaken again by the same player- regardless of whether or not the ball has gone into the back of the net. If both teams are level at 5 spot-kicks each, the shoot-out will continue, up until a player misses the goal. 

Only players who remain on the pitch are allowed to take penalties, and thus, excluding substitute players, as well as players who have played and have been substituted are not allowed to take penalties. 

Why I am not a fan of penalty shoot outs 

  • It places added burden and pressure on the player taking the penalty
  • It tends to favour the goalkeeper more-so than the shooter, given in the main game of football/soccer, the aim is to outscore your opponents by as many goals as you can
  • The crowd behind the goal favouring the goalkeeper to make the save, may distract the player taking the penalty by booing, chanting, whistling loudly or waving their arms
  • It is often seen as a cop-out and a lottery and test of luck, rather than skill

I dread penalty shootouts; I just find them cruel and an awful way to determine the winner of a football match. In these shoot-outs, any team - unless they are really, really poor - can win. Seeing their face of dejection and sadness is a bitter pill to swallow and it feels downright horrible. To see your side come so close, only to have victory snatched away from you via a penalty shootout, it's like they feel like they have let their country down. Having that and relying on that one player carry the entire weight on their shoulders, is just not right in my eyes. Penalty shoot-outs are never fun, especially during a World Cup, European Cup or Copa America match. It's never fun for England; the England team especially has been crap at taking them and we have a poor track record in this department; penalty shoot-outs are intense... and brutal. 

For the winner, it is a hollow victory but for the loser, it is an unfair defeat. If you look beyond the shootout itself, either way, no one actually benefits from this. Why? Because if there was another penalty shoot-out, the probability of the same team winning it again like last time, is too difficult to call. No one can anticipate what the goal keeper will do next, whether or not s/he will dive to the left, right or stay in the centre. 

For all the drama, it is the luck and the injustice that prevails and overrides the emotion and excitement. It is more of a psychological battle between the penalty taker and the goalkeeper. It requires maximum concentration, drowning out the noise from the crowd by being silent but also focusing on their one target: the goal. Do you aim the ball to where you think the goalkeeper would not be able to reach it, or do you aim the ball to where you want it to end up somewhere at the back of the net? It's just as much a question of mind games as it is in kicking -or if you're the goalie saving the ball. 

So many games end in a stalemate or draw and often, soccer is derided for the lack of chances and goals. If there were other ways to settle a match, what would they be and how would it work? 

What are the alternatives to a penalty shoot-out? 

1. Attacker >Goalkeeper = Shootout 

How does it work?:

A series of a minimal of 10 rounds in which the player, right from kick off and starting from the centre spot has 40 secs or 1 minute to score a goal against the goalkeeper, one -on- one. The team with the most goals is the winner. This actually occurred during the U.S Major League Soccer league and was last used in 1999. Titled 'shootout', players start 35 yards out and were tasked with beating the 'keeper in under 5 seconds. A foul by the 'keeper on the player results in an automatic, one -shot, penalty spot- kick. 

2. More Extra time but with less players on the pitch

How does it work?:

Continue with 30 mins extra time play but this time have teams reduce and replace players at progressive times. Similar to the NHL hockey and NBA basketball. To reduce this from occurring too often in the game, each team would be allowed to do this up to 5 times maximum. 

3. Sheffield Rules of 1862 

How does it work?

You have an additional goal area marked either side of the goalposts marked by flags. teams would score points for any number of passing shots through the area between the posts and flags. 

4. Moving the penalty spot back a few yards out 

This could make a slight amount of difference as to who wins, and who doesn't

5. Introducing a second ball, playing with 2 footballs 

How does it work?

2 Players - one on the left hand side of the pitch, the other on right hand side - each have 1 football against the goalkeeper, the goalkeeper has to keep out one or both shots. Players may dribble, take long shots, use trickery and flair to outwit and beat the goalkeeper. The team who has the most shots on target in total, wins.  

6. 5 verses 5 

How does it work?

Same rules applies as normal but only lasts 30 mins. In that 30 mins, a normal game of soccer is played.... except that there is no goalkeeper involved, no off-sides and kick-ins replacing throw-ins when the ball has gone out of play. The team that wins is the one who leads at the end of 30 mins. 

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