Generally, I like football matches to be decided in the regulation time. Even extra time is okay, but I detested the idea of Golden Goal. It was not quite football. Even Penalty kicks during regulation or extra time do not enthuse me very much. They tend to simplify the whole process. Knock-outs being decided in Penalty Shootouts create huge drama, and might be TV friendly, but are patently unfair to the side that loses. And yet, what else is the option?
I won’t call them lotteries. They are more like gun duels of the yore. The gaolie might not stand an even chance, but he is not completely out of the reckoning either. This is not a game of darts, despite the apparent ease. Once in three kicks, the goalkeeper does guess correctly. Once in four times, he manages a touch. Once in five attempts, he succeeds in keeping it out. And then there is the goalpost-the goalie’s best friend. Demons in striker’s heads manage the rest.
Skills have already been tested over 120 minutes. The two sides cannot be separated. It boils down to the test of temperament. I don’t know if Mbappe did or did not deserve the heartbreak last night. He was certainly off colour in the match and in the tournament. I still feel sorry for Baggio though. But it is different when Germany and England square up. Strange things tend to happen on the park- goal-lines assume sanctity, goalposts come alive (their head-to-head being 15-13 in favour of the Germans). Germany harboured grievances against Hurst’s 1966 goal being allowed, till Lampard’s disallowance in 2010 made up for it. Germany thrashed England by 4-1 in their 2010 Second Round World Cup match, but their previous two meetings in the semies- at the 1990 World Cup, and 1996 Euros- were decided by shootouts.
The 1990 England –Germany shootout was not the first one I had watched, having witnessed my favourite Argentina beat Italy the previous night in the first semi-final. But this match was been more keenly contested, and there were a lot more ooh and aah moments, with Brehme free-kick getting diverted into the goal to put Germany ahead, and Linekar equalling it for England in the dying moments with a left-footer. The extra time saw two simple misses from Klinsmann, and even the English found the post twice. Both teams had netted three kicks each, when Pearce was denied by the German goalie, and then Thon put the Die Mannschaft ahead. Waddles needed to score to keep the English in the match, but he hit so hard above the post that the ball has still not come down, and sporadically gets reported by drunk fans as UFO flying above the Dover.
England took early lead in the Euro 1996 semi-final with a third minute goal by Alan Shearer, but Kuntz found the equalizer ten minutes later. After a lot of near misses and hits at the goalpost, the match inevitably tumbled into another Shootout. Players netting the ball one after the other- wow, it turned out to be a perfect tiebreaker, that is, five each out of five. Pearce, who has missed in Turin, succeeded this time. It was too good to last. That the Huns would not lose nerves seemed destined. This was a waiting game till some English striker suffered an eventual meltdown. Gareth Southgate, the current coach, ultimately hit one into goalie Kopke’s hands, while Moller didn’t panic and scored to send Germany in the final. Interestingly, Germany won both the World Cup 1990 and Euro 1996 after sending the English home.
That Spot Kicks do not suit the fragile English temperament is no longer hush-hush. Their record is 1-3 at World Cup, and 1-3 at the Euros, the wins coming against Colombia in World Cup 2018, and against Spain in Euro 1996. The six losses have come against Germany(twice), Portugal(twice), Argentina and Italy. In their last penalty shootout, England defeated Switzerland in Nation’s League in the third place Playoff by 6-5.
Contrast this record with the Germans’. They lost their first shootout to the Czechoslovakians in the final of the Euro 1976. Since they have WON EVERYTIME they have been taken to the penalties. Their score is 4-0 in World Cup, and 2-1 in the Euros. In the World Cups, the mighty Germans have beaten France in the semis of 1982, Mexico in the quarter-final of 1986, England in the semis of ’90 and Argentina in the quarterfinal in 2006. Germany overcame England in the Euro 1996 semi-final, and Italy in the quarterfinal of Euro 2016.
While the Germans have not lost a shootout in six previous attempts, England have finally begun to fare well under Southgate as the coach (won penalties against Columbia and Switzerland). As such, it would be a cracker if the Round of 16 match tonight goes down to the wire, and gets decided in the Shootouts. Can Harry Kane, Rushford, Rahim Sterling, Maguire, Sancho and others who have scored in recent shootouts get the better of Manuel Neuer (German goalie), or would it take a double effort from Jordan Pickford ( English goalie) to score as well as deny, to take the English into the next round?
Bring on the Penalties! Can’t just wait now.
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