In this AC Devil’s Advocate piece, I defend shootouts, or penalty kicks, as the only way to end tied FIFA World Cup matches
Let the whining commence.
It was bound to happen. A 2010 FIFA World Cup match being decided via shootout. On Tuesday, the inevitable occurred when Paraguay defeated Japan 5-3 in penalty kicks. Even before the conclusion of the shootout, ignorant and uneducated American sports fans on Facebook and Twitter were, as usual, complaining about a World Cup soccer match ending via shootout. “This is why the USA will never embrace soccer!” “A shootout has to be the worst way to end a sporting event.” “I’m ready for some real man football.”
American sports fans are right about one thing. The decision on how to end FIFA World Cup and other soccer matches is truly a no-brainer. Shootouts (penalty kicks) are, without question, the only way to complete matches that have gone a full 120 minutes without there being a clear winner. Really, this is hardly a “Devil’s Advocate” or “heel turn” piece on my part. It’s just common sense.
Don’t agree? Here’s a little exercise for you. Run non-stop on a (approximately) 100 meter field for 45 minutes. Take about a ten minute rest (full rest, sitting down). Run on the field for 45 more minutes. Rest for about three minutes. Run for 15 straight minutes. Rest for about 90 seconds. Run for 15 more minutes. Then, keep running non-stop until some event (a goal) occurs.
Yeah, that makes sense.
Let me cut you “they play sudden death ‘golden goal’ rules in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and those are your favorite playoffs. What’s the difference there?” geeks off right now. There is no comparison, none whatsoever, to playing a full 60 minutes of a hockey game and a full 120+ minutes of a soccer match. In hockey, the players get a full intermission after each period, including after every overtime period. Not a short break. A full intermission. Due to line changes, the players are only on the ice a third of the game (at most). FIFA World Cup and similar soccer matches allow for three substitutions per team per game, including overtime periods. Used all three subs before overtime? Sucks for you.
The biggest factor that separates hockey and soccer overtimes is goaltending. In a hockey game, the goalie is challenged anywhere between 20 and 40 times depending on his defense and the opponent’s offense. By the start of the first overtime, the hockey goalie is likely as fatigued as many of his own teammates. In soccer, the goalie receives several minutes of rest at numerous points during the match. Ten minutes may go by before a soccer goalie has to put down his water bottle, let alone actually play the ball.
Imagine how God awful sudden death soccer would be. Players would be falling down at midfield (more so than normal). 2 MPH shots on goal. Matches would go on for days.
Besides, soccer matches ending via shootout isn’t the fault of FIFA, the World Cup or any soccer organization. Blame should go directly to teams and players. How many times in a World Cup does a squad purposely play just to get to a shootout because that team knows its goalie and shooters are made for penalty kicks? Look at the United States vs. Ghana match. The second the match went into overtime, American soccer fans were begging, pleading and praying for a shootout. Why? The United States had Tim Howard, one of the best penalty kicks/shootout goalies in the world, in net. Instead, Ghana actually played for the win and scored on Howard in the first three minutes of overtime.
If anything, FIFA needs to bring back the “golden goal.” The first team to score in one of the 15 minute overtime periods wins the soccer match. No goals in either overtime should result in penalty kicks. This rule forces those squads that aren’t proficient in penalty kicks/shootouts to actually have to play for the win. And isn’t that what you, the American sports fan, wants to see? Teams playing to actually win games? I can guarantee you this one thing, though.
You would go back and send that Ghana vs. USA match to penalty kicks in a heartbeat if you could.
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