Agony and ec­stasy loom as penalty shootouts come into play at #WorldCup

Sunday Express - - SPORT -

NIZHNY NOV­GOROD — Foot­ball’s cruel mis­tress — the penalty shootout — ar­rives at the World Cup on Satur­day af­ter a packed fort­night of group games, ready to dis­pense her char­ac­ter­is­tic doses of un­bri­dled joy and heart­break in the knock­out stages.

There has been a penalty shootout at ev­ery World Cup since 1982 in Spain, and while it is still a mat­ter of con­tention whether this is the best way to de­cide a win­ner, the post-match shootout is now com­mon at all lev­els of the game.

But the con­se­quences of fail­ure are nowhere more dev­as­tat­ing than at a World Cup, where two pre­vi­ous fi­nals and five semi-fi­nals have been de­cided by the gut-wrench­ing lottery of penal­ties.

In­evitably it is the misses that are best re­mem­bered, none more so than Italy’s Roberto Bag­gio blast­ing over the bar to hand Brazil the World Cup in 1994 or Chris Wad­dle with a sim­i­larly wild and way­ward ef­fort for Eng­land in the semi-fi­nal four years later.

In all, 26 World Cup clashes have needed penal­ties to pro­duce a win­ner, al­though only twice have they gone past the first stage of five kicks each. Of the 16 teams in the sec­ond round in Rus­sia start­ing on Satur­day, all but four have had past ex­pe­ri­ence of a World Cup shootout.

Ar­gentina should be the most con­fi­dent, hav­ing been in­volved in more World Cup shootouts than any other coun­try and win­ning four out of five. Brazil have won three of four, in­clud­ing the 1994 fi­nal in Los An­ge­les, and France two of four, los­ing to Italy in the de­cid­ing game in Berlin in 2006.

But for the likes of Eng­land, Mex­ico and Switzer­land the prospect of progress in Rus­sia hing­ing on spot kicks will verge on the ter­ri­fy­ing. Eng­land have lost all three of their shootouts, and Mex­ico two out of two. The Swiss, buck­ing the na­tional stereo­type of calm ef­fi­ciency, failed to con­vert any of their kicks in their one pre­vi­ous shootout, go­ing out to Ukraine in the last 16 in Cologne in 2006.

For Colom­bia, Croa­tia, Den­mark and Rus­sia it will be a new World Cup ex­pe­ri­ence if they are forced into the post-match tie breaker, al­though the Danes suc­ceeded in the semi-fi­nals on their way to their shock Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship suc­cess in 1992.

In the en­tire World Cup fi­nals his­tory, there have been a to­tal of 240 post-match penal­ties taken, with 170 of them scored. That is a de­cent con­ver­sion rate given the gut-thump­ing ten­sion that al­ways goes with the shootouts. The stress of nail-bit­ing fans in the stands has noth­ing on the pres­sure felt by the play­ers in­volved, many of whom of­ten can­not bare to look while their col­leagues step up to take their shots.

Penalty shootouts were first in­tro­duced at the 1978 World Cup but were not needed un­til four years later. Be­fore that, an even more un­sat­is­fac­tory toss of the coin was used to break the dead­lock.

One con­so­la­tion for the teams now faced with the prospect of penal­ties in Rus­sia is that they will not have to face Ger­many. Their 100 per­cent record in World Cup shootouts re­mains in­tact due to their un­ex­pect­edly early de­par­ture. — Reuters

ICE­LAND goal­keeper Hannes Hall­dors­son saves a penalty at­tempt by Ar­gentina’s Li­onel Messi dur­ing the group D match.

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