• Thursday, 26 April 2012

    In praise of: The penalty shoot-out

    We love a good penalty shoot-out here. We love a bad one as well. It's an unfairly maligned way of settling tied games in knockout football, testing as it does a perfectly normal part of the game.

    It's not like we're asking players to write essays on the physics of galaxial inter-relationship - though we're sure that would play into Shaka Hislop's hands - or teach home economics to some unruly 12-year olds. Other methods have been tried, but the silver goal was even worse than the golden goal and the 35-yard rule in MLS, while innovative, was quickly scrapped in favour of the IFAB standard. Like democracy, the shoot-out is the worst system apart from all the others.

    A certain mythology has arisen around the shoot-out, largely around their status as a lottery and that the Germans are ruthlessly efficient at them. Both of these myths, largely English in origin, can be debunked with one word: practice. Penalties are only a lottery if you don't practice and the Germans are good at them because they do. Moreover, Toni Kroos and Phillip Lahm hit two of the worst penalties seen in a long time in the Champions League semi-final at the Bernabeu. Fortunately for them, Kaka picked up the baton of Brazilians missing in shoot-outs, Sergio Ramos sent his into a lower earth orbit and they had the back-stop of one of the finer exponents of the spot kick to win it for them in Bastian Schweinsteiger. His technique is exemplary and that's no accident.

    The shoot-out provides high drama, dizzying highs and crashing lows. It should be embraced for what it is, not decried for what it isn't. And any side with difficulties in this department are better off looking at why that might be than writing it off as a lottery.

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