Ask any England football fan and they will tell you – with head in hands – about their country’s inglorious history of penalty shoot-outs.
Last Monday morning England awoke with the pulsating hangover of another penalty shoot-out loss, this time at the hands of Italy in their Euro 2012 quarter-final.
Clinging on after extra-time with an uninspiring and undeserved goalless draw, a sense of inevitability descended over England fans in Kiev, not to mention the estimated 20 million viewers watching at home.
Penalties again for the founding fathers of football.
England has a particularly unhappy love affair with the spot-kick, having been booted out by penalties of the World Cup in 1990 and 1998, Euro 96 and Euro 2004 and now in Euro 2012.
The redeeming factor of the shoot-out was that the better team won. Any other result would have been a poor reflection of the game played. But it raised the age-old question of whether it is time for an alternative to what essentially amounts as a coin-toss to decide the outcome of a big match.
Most people agree that penalty shoot-outs are a high drama but ultimately unfulfilling climax to an important big game.
What so often happens is the weaker team continues to play defensively throughout extra time in the hope they can win the penalty shoot-out.
Over the years various alternatives to penalties have been proposed: one-on-one shootouts dribbling from 35 yards, corner competitions, taking stats from earlier in the game to decide the outcome (possession, shots on target etc), golden goal (first goal in extra time wins), silver goal (if a team is leading at half time of extra time, they win), ongoing extra time, etc, etc.
The list goes on.
A couple of the more interesting options include holding the penalties at the end of 90 minutes in the case of a draw, but then still playing extra time afterwards and only using the result of the shootout if the score remains tied after extra time, or, similarly, holding the shootout before the 90 minutes is even played.
Personally I would prefer for the team of greater skill to have an increased chance of winning the game.
The problem with the golden goal concept is that teams play defensively in fear of conceding so the spectacle is lost and players know they do not actually need to score a goal to still have a chance of winning the game in penalties.
My preference is to adapt the golden goal, but after every five minutes of extra time a player from each team would have to be withdrawn. The chances of a goal would increase dramatically so both teams would know that they needed to try to score, and the more skilful team would have the advantage.
It is by no means a new idea, but under this system before the thirty minutes of extra time is completed, five players from each side would have been withdrawn and a goal would surely result with so few players on a full-sized pitch. There would also be an intriguing tactical element of deciding which type of players were chosen to be withdrawn at each juncture.
Who would you take off first?
You need to score, so it would be unlikely to be an attacker or striker, but at the same time you cannot risk conceding, so would it be a midfielder? It would probably depend on the strength of your team and the condition of individual players. Whatever choices were made at least this would surely result in two teams having to attack and try to score a goal, which after all, is the object of the game of football.
I recognise the purists may argue that anything other than 11-on-11 is not really football, especially as that number reduced further.
But then again, surely penalties are not the answer for the purists either.
But that is just one alternative. What do you think? Tweet me with your suggestions @DianaOB_Sport.
I asked the Al Jazeera sports team for their thoughts.
Lee Wellings – Correspondent
Penalties are not the ideal way to settle a football match, but everyone knows that is the form if you cannot beat a team over 120 minutes. Italy were better in the shootout against England. Spain were better than Portugal, so it is hardly unfair.
But I have never understood why ‘one-on-one’ starting from the halfway line is not seriously considered. If the goalkeeper touches it and it does not end up in the goal it is a miss. Twenty seconds per player. Five attempts each.
Arguably more skill needed than you require from the penalty spot for player and keeper.
James Pratt – Executive Producer
I am a fan of penalties. The simple format and dramatic way in which to quickly decide who progresses (and who knocks England out) in major tournaments will always polarise opinion, but it is proven to be the best way to encourage positive play.
Golden-goal extra time, where a team automatically won if they scored, was scrapped in 2004 because the teams involved were so afraid of conceding that they curbed their attacking instincts, meaning it usually went to penalties anyway.
In such short tournaments replays are impractical, while spot-kicks also give players a chance to be heroes, unlike the dreaded coin toss. The American shoot-out system, where a player runs with the ball for 35 yards before shooting, or the similar Attacker-Defender-Goalkeeper system, which includes an extra defensive element, both add an extra element or two to the traditional shootout and gives the goalie more involvement.
But for pure drama neither can match a shootout between two opponents from 12 yards.
Jo Tilley – Website editor
For me, there is something rather depressing about when a game goes to a penalty shoot-out.
Football is a team sport and there is nothing more individualistic than one man and a ball. Football is also about passing, tackling and dribbling – none of the skills needed to take a penalty. The end of a penalty shoot-out sees one player elated and the other dejected and the ramifications of the match lies on the last person who misses.
As a football player myself, I would not want an important game to go down to penalties (especially if I miss).
However, I can think of no better alternative. The players cannot play on forever and perhaps it is the best system purely because it is great entertainment. Obviously as an England supporter I wish there was a better way to decide the big ‘uns.
Sohail Malik – News Producer
I would not say that penalties are the best option; but rather they are the least worst option.
Of course fans want to see games decided in open-play – but that cannot always happen. While losing on penalties might leave a sour taste, they at least allow players settle their own fate. If you think England and Portugal feel frustrated right now; just imagination how the Soviets felt in 1968. Back then coin tosses were used, and that is how they lost a Euro semi-final to Italy. Indeed penalties are not ideal, but they beat that.
Nonetheless I believe FIFA has an option. They should take steps to encourage games to be settled in open play.
Extra-time can be very drab with sides often scared to take risks. Also some teams play for penalties believing they stand a better chance of victory from 12 yards. Something can be done here and FIFA were on the right track, but got it slightly wrong with the golden and silver goal. These innovations made many teams play uber-defensively.
So instead of making changes to the actual game, I believe shootouts should be changed. Instead of five kicks, there should be instant sudden death where just one error can break dreams. This would make penalties a less attractive option and would propel players to seek out that elusive killing goal.
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