Penalty kicks are the perfect way to end a soccer match

Posted: July 2, 2012 by vindanton in Pro Sports
Tags: , ,

By: Salvatore Eppolito

Reuters

This past Euro, to an American standpoint, is just another prime example of the growth the sport has had in this country. ESPN is the Mecca to sports fans in this country, and every match was analyzed, dissected, and shown on their two main channels daily throughout the tournament.

Soccer is becoming part of the American sports landscape. Since this wave of popularity and interest is coming in so fast over the years, new fans of the game, as well as the average American sports fan are still trying to piece together all the rules, or technically Laws of the Game, as well as the customs of soccer. Many times in my life I have talked with people trying to understand things about it, and many voice their ignorance and share their opinions on how the game is played.

Of the many discussions I have had with people who lack knowledge of the sport, one topic has been brought up quite a few times than others: penalty kicks.

Around the footballing world in major tournaments, when a match cannot be decided during the first 90 minutes, added extra time (or more extra time) is played. In extra time, the two teams are given two 15-minute halves to come up with a goal. If one side manages to score, it isn’t sudden death…the clock continues and the teams play until time is up. If both sides are still at a dead lock, the match goes to penalties to determine a winner. History has shown us that there are few more nerve racking, exciting, and completely unpredictable events in all of sports. Even with that reputation, it is to this day a controversial way to end important games, not only to new found American fans, but even to supporters around the globe.

Many of soccer’s big names, players and managers alike, have spoken in opposition of the format for all different reasons. Many say it is basically a lottery, with no way to tactically win it like you could before hand. Others claim it takes away the teamwork aspect and focuses on the individual player. One of my favorite arguments against it was, “Ending a soccer game with penalties is like ending a basketball game with a game of horse.” I always get a laugh out of that, but in my eyes, all those criticisms could not be more wrong, and they completely miss the point.

Penalties are the perfect way to end a match.

For the people who complain about it being a lottery, there is a fairly simple counter argument. If you feel your team was the better side in the game, or overall, there was 120 plus minutes played before hand where the “better side” should have won the match. Critics would then continue with the argument that many weaker teams tactically prepare and play out games or extra time to make sure they go to penalties. FIFA even got rid of Golden Goal, basically sudden death overtime because they felt many teams got to defensive in this period and would play for penalties.

But my argument is that it is part of the game, and sports in general. Even in league play, many weaker clubs become more defensive and sit back hoping to get a few chances on counter attacks against better squads. They play out the match hoping for a result in a draw and maybe even grind out a win. After 90 minutes, players are drained and its part of the game sometimes for coaches to sit back and try to win penalties.

Lastly, there is an expansion to the argument about the lottery, where its unpredictability basically gives an unfair clean slate to both teams and it’s basically a whole new game to be played. I understand that point. It’s true, there is no getting by it and it’s hard to argue how people feel that it isn’t fair.

Now my counter may seem vague but I stand by it. That’s the beauty of soccer, its unfairness sometimes. I could go on for a while about the philosophy and metaphors for the world’s game and why so many people and cultures are obsessed with it, but what it all comes down to is its simplicity and unpredictability. Sometimes things don’t go your way. It happens. Whether one blames it on luck, fate, or destiny, that’s how it works.

After well over a hundred years of the sport’s existence, and many different processes attempted, penalties have been around the longest. They are the best and “fairest” way to end a game. After 120 minutes of play, it comes down to a test of nerve and composure. Legends have been made in penalties. There’s the long walk from center of the park to the spot. The things going through the players’ heads only make it harder. Then the ball is placed down, the ref makes sure the keeper is ready. Both players stare each other down and figure out their move. It’s all up in the air. Anything could happen. Sometimes the ‘better’ side wins. Sometimes they don’t. It’s a part of sports, and in a sense, a part of life.

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