It happens at every major football tournament, without fail. At least one team, usually England, is sent packing by the cruel lottery that is otherwise known as a penalty shootout.

Ya might as well just buy a scratchie. Pic: Getty Images

Sometimes these shootouts are decided by a flash of heroic brilliance from the outstretched glove of a goalkeeper. But they are just as often resolved by the howling error of a man with shredded nerves.

Portugal became the second team to suffer that fate at Euro 2012 yesterday morning, losing on penalties after holding world champions Spain to a goalless draw for two hours of football.

You have to feel for the Portuguese, who have once again failed to win a major trophy, yet still cannot find a way to deflate Cristiano Ronaldo’s ego. As competitive balloon racers will tell you, it is not often that a team can genuinely claim to be weighed down by hot air.

Of course, the English nation has been weighed down for decades by a long and colourful history of spectacular failures at the penalty spot. The Poms were forced to watch in horror as history repeated itself on Monday morning.

We all enjoy mocking the English, and their recurring humiliation is almost reason enough to fall in love with the penalty shootout format. But it really is fundamentally unfair to decide a football match of any significance with such a lottery.

It is true that there are few moments in world sport more dramatic than the shootout. Every Aussie remembers John Aloisi’s strike to bury Uruguay and send us to the world cup in 2005. The whole nation was on the edge of its seat that night.

Much of the planet was similarly spellbound as the world cup final between France and Italy went to penalties a year later.

As a spectacle then, the shootout format could legitimately be labelled a success.

Spare a thought for the losing side though. After having matched their opposition on the pitch for two long hours of football, the losers must see their dreams of glory crushed by what is effectively the flip of a coin.

Advocates of the shootout would argue that players get tired if they are left to fight it out on the field for too long. This increases the likelihood of an injury occurring.

But the game can only open up as fatigue sets in during extra time, making it easier for either side to score. FIFA should implement a format that will take advantage of this fact.

Footballing elites would undoubtedly be shocked and offended by the suggestion that they should model their beautiful game after an ugly, crass sport like rugby league. But the golden point format adopted by the NRL in recent years would work perfectly for football.

The penalty shootout should be replaced by a period of “golden goal” extra time, in which the first team to score wins. This format ticks all the right boxes for fans, players and even the game’s administrators.

Hundreds of informal football matches among mates have taught me that there is nothing more exciting than “next score wins”. On the world stage this format would energise crowds and players alike. The suits in charge should jump at the chance to see that happen.

Even more importantly, the hollow stench of unfairness that hangs over every penalty shootout would become a thing of the past. Players on the losing side would have to acknowledge that they were beaten fair and square.

Winning fans could feel greater satisfaction in the knowledge that their victory was truly deserved, not stolen from their opposition by the whims of fortune.

To decide the biggest games in world sport with the lottery of a penalty shootout is nothing short of ridiculous. Hand the ball back to the players, and let them play.

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44 comments

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    • Emma says:

      06:47am | 29/06/12

      England wasnt really good during the match though, Italy deserved that win. Spain didnt.

      Apart from that things havent really changed. Back in the day you tossed a coin and now you have a shoot out. The only difference is that now you can blame the poor player that missed the goal.

    • Tom says:

      01:15pm | 29/06/12

      Maybe Emma, but it has to be the most stupid way of getting a result.

    • S.L says:

      06:57am | 29/06/12

      There has been Golden Goal extra time in local soccer finals for years. I remember the Socceroos winning a Golden Goal match years ago.
      But the alternative is right under their noses…......When I played in the 70s we used to play in a round robin comp at easter time. The game breaker is corner kicks. If it’s deadlocked at full time the team awarded the most corners gets the gong. What can be simpler?

    • Wayne Kerr says:

      10:22am | 29/06/12

      I remember the “corners” rule too but I can’t say it would be any fairer than having a penalty shoot outs.  I still play and I know I’d be more upset if it was decided on corners than penalties.

    • iansand says:

      12:05pm | 29/06/12

      What about, instead of a penalty shootout, each side gets five corner kicks, then move onto a golden corner if the 5 corners does not resolve it.

    • iansand says:

      12:06pm | 29/06/12

      Maybe with only 5 or 6 players on the field from each side so the goalmouth is not too crowded.

    • Dan says:

      07:18am | 29/06/12

      Here’s a good idea; scrap the boring 90 minutes that usually makes up a soccer game and go directly to the penalty shoot-out. Think how much more exciting that would be. And you could get a dozen games in during a Saturday afternoon.

    • Gregg says:

      08:22am | 29/06/12

      See, soccer needs to upgrade itself to something like twenty over cricket where it is all decided much quicker and more excitingly.

      Why not for instance have power five minutes where one team has to drop two players.
      But then all those people supporting the soccering around of a round ball might just be a little too dumb.

      Now, that tour is just around the corner.

    • fml says:

      08:29am | 29/06/12

      Everybody whinges about penalties, but its not all that bad, I mean, once they miss they have to go back to their Ferraris, millions of dollars and supermodel wives. Poor sods.

    • Budz says:

      09:57am | 29/06/12

      @fml: Ahh yes, because those things are guaranteed to bring happiness. I’m sure a lot of players would give it all up for a world cup win.

    • Budz says:

      08:40am | 29/06/12

      @Samuel: How would golden goal in extra time change any of the 2 outcomes you speak of? There wasn’t a single goal scored in either of those extra time periods.
      What I suggest is a drop off similar to touch footy. Every 2-3 mins each team has to drop a player each so it is more likely a goal will be scored because there are less players on the field. I dunno about the die hard soccer fans out there, but personally I’d much rather see a goal scored in normal avenues than a freaking penalty shoot out.

    • Bomb78 says:

      09:26am | 29/06/12

      Pretty sure the first ever FIFA competition with Golden Goal was the World Youth Championships in Australia in 1993 - I think Australia won the first ever match decided by Golden Goal - might have even been played at Lang Park… not sure why they got rid of it.
      The unresolved question is, how long do you keep playing? After 30 minutes extra time, maybe start a ‘drop off’, with each team taking a player off the field every five minutes until a goal is scored. That starts to get interesting when your down to 2 or 3 and have to decide if you keep you goalkeeper or not.

    • hot tub political machine says:

      10:12am | 29/06/12

      Can’t do the removing players one at a time. Pretty much guarantees the players left on the pitch won’t win their next match as they will be too knackered. Remember they have to play several games a week in these short tournaments. Gives a guaranteed win to the victors next opponenent.

    • Steve says:

      10:54am | 29/06/12

      HotTub - is removing two players a side every ten minutes of extra time worse than having 11 players play on for another 30 minutes?

    • hot tub political machine says:

      11:27am | 29/06/12

      Steve,

      I would say at the Elite level - Yes. At the lower levels its probably about the same - but at the elite when conditioning is such a big part of the game I would say this is worse.

      Also factor in that sides will choose to keep their best players on - which means the better players will be the more knackered at the next game.

    • Arnold Layne says:

      09:33am | 29/06/12

      I reckon if neither side can score a goal during 120 minutes of football, they deserve to have it decided by penalties.  I feel a bit more sympathy for them when the scores are 1-1 or 2-2 though.

      They introduced golden goal for a while and then turfed it.  Personally I thought it was good but what are you gonna do?  *shrugs*

    • hot tub political machine says:

      09:44am | 29/06/12

      No! No! No! No! No!.....just No! Lets put this fallacy to bed once and forever. The shootout is not a lottery – it is a matter of correct decision making. See, Jens Lehman reading his data sheet on the Argentine penalty takers at the 06 world cup. See Pirlo knowing Joe Hart had read the data sheet on him a couple of days ago…..and shooting down the middle rather than his historically successfully controlled shot low to the keepers right (which is where hart dived, having read Pirlo’s data sheet).

      Read “How to Score” and its brilliant analysis of penalties. Read about Germany’s policy that a player must try to hit to one the four corners of the goal rather than going for pure power – and see their penalty record.

      As a former goalkeeper I can tell you that 9 times out of 10 a player’s run up tells you which side he will hit it to. Two of the best professional penalty takers of all time – Matt Le Tissier and Francesso Totti – are renowned for developing the rare skill of hitting the opposite way their run up suggests.

      Lottery – don’t make me get sick into my own scorn.

    • the magpie says:

      11:13am | 29/06/12

      Having won and lost on penalties, I have to agree, it is not a lottery, it is a test of nerve and skill. Pretty much anyone can smash a penalty in from 12 yards in training or at the local park, but add the pressure and consequences of a spot kick to win a final or get through to the next round and you have great theatre.

    • Sean Williams says:

      10:10am | 29/06/12

      The golden goal rule was used for a period at the end of last century, Euro 96 was won by a golden goal, it didn’t work though as extra-time became even more cagey negative affairs than normal. That was replaced by a silver goal (where a goal scored in the first period of extra time would be the winner if it hadn’t been cancelled out by half-time of extra time). So thanks for the advice you ingenious rugby league pioneers, but no thanks!

      The best idea I have heard is where at the end of 90 minutes a quick penalty shoot-out would be held. The winner of the shoot-out would carry the “penalty shoot-out advantage” which would effectively amount to half a goal. The team that lost the shoot-out would be compelled to come out and attack to take the advantage back and vice-versa making for an exciting extra-time that could not end level. Final scores would be like, Italy 0 England 0 (aet Italy won on a 4-2 penalties advantage) or Italy 0 England 1 (aet after Italy had held 4-2 penalties advantage)

      That said, I am not totally averse to the drama of a decisive penalty shoot-out. Yes, it’s cruel and a bit unfair (but so is life and football is a reflection of life in the way that no other sport can compare) and yes it takes away the team element, but it is distilling the world’s greatest game down to its purest essence, sticking the ball past the keeper and into the old onion bag.

    • Alex says:

      10:16am | 29/06/12

      It’s more like ‘hand the ball back to the players and MAKE them play’, because often the main reason games go to penalties is the style of defensive play that is employed. You can see Italy just love playing for penalties - they will probably do it in the final unless Spain get an early goal.
      Golden goal is definitely the way to go. Other methods of determining the winner are too complicated, and football prides itself on its beauty of simplicity.
      What to do though if the extra time is up and there’s been no golden goal? I can’t see another way than penalties…

    • Wayne Kerr says:

      11:14am | 29/06/12

      Which matches have you been watching in Euro 2012????

      Italy have probably played the most attacking football in the whole tournament than any other team.  With England they just couldn’t convert the attackes into goals. They were certainly looking to win not a penalty shoot out. Again, with Germany they played for the win and were able to score goals.

      The Spain V Portugal match you could definitely see Spain playing for penalties.

      As I say, don’t know what tournament you’ve been watching..


      Against Germany they

    • Tim says:

      10:35am | 29/06/12

      0-0 draws or draws in general are the reason why soccer sucks so badly.
      No wonder they riot.

      They don’t need a golden goal period, they need to make the goal 30cm wider and higher.

      It will turn soccer from the boring snooze fest it currently is into an exciting and thrilling sport.

    • S.L says:

      02:32pm | 29/06/12

      I could return that argument by saying in all other football codes it’s too easy to score…......

    • fml says:

      02:59pm | 29/06/12

      If AFL is so great and soccer is soo bad, why do all AFL players wear soccer boots?

    • Tim says:

      03:10pm | 29/06/12

      SL,
      no you really couldn’t.
      Well unless you think 0-0 in 120minutes is a good result but I’d rather watch paint dry than a 0-0 draw in any sport.

      Just for arguments sake, which of the four major football codes in Australia throws up the most amount of results where the better team on the day doesn’t win?
      I think therein lies your answer.

      The same thing happened in golf where the equipment outgrew the courses and players were scoring ridiculously low scores. Did they sit back and say: “well this is how we’ve always played it”? No, they made the courses longer and harder to match the new equipment and professionalism.

      People are growing, goalies and defenders are far bigger and faster than they used to be. They can cover more of the goal easier. It’s time for the pitch layout to catch up.

    • Admiral Ackbar says:

      06:46pm | 29/06/12

      Yeah they should make it incredibly easy to score and require next to no skill to play by simply awarding points even if someone misses, and allowing them to use their hands. Sounds familiar.

    • MarkS says:

      10:37am | 29/06/12

      You cannot fix a broken game by adding fudges to the margins.

    • Greg says:

      10:40am | 29/06/12

      I have an idea to make penalties not so much of a ‘lottery’....don’t be rubbish people can claim penalties are unfair as much as they like but at the end of the day if you don’t suck it’s perfectly fine.

      On a side note Has everyone at the punch taken a long weekend and put the interns in today?

    • Gos says:

      10:58am | 29/06/12

      Simple: If its tied the end of 90 Minutes… remove the Goal Keepers and/or the offside rule. Imagine how entertaining that would be!

    • hot tub political machine says:

      11:31am | 29/06/12

      That or multiball - futurama style. Pity the commentators.

    • Soccer's boring says:

      11:17am | 29/06/12

      ‘there is nothing more exciting than “next score wins” ’ - umm, when you have two evenly matched teams, and it is nil all for 90 mins, it is always “next score wins”.
      ‘Hand the ball back to the players, and let them play. ’ - they should have played in the first 90 mins instead of milking penalties with Oscar winning dives!

      Any game with a nil-all draw a regular scoreline needs re-vamping - I like the idea of making the goals bigger.

    • Jay says:

      11:30am | 29/06/12

      The big matches EUFA Finals, World Cup, Champions League etc, have become boring because neither team is prepared to play with any flair or take chances.Once it gets to the 70 minute mark you can almost see that teams shut shop. Whe a free kick is given then the wall should go back 15 metres. This will make the keepers work much harder and let the kicker use their abilites to score.Extra time should be increased to 20 minutes which will make players think twice about playing for a draw. No subs allowed during extra time. Still the best game in the world.

    • Bruno says:

      11:48am | 29/06/12

      nothing lottery about technical precision, nerves of steel and strength of character. this is what wins penalties not luck. love the suggestions by some of the readers. tinker with the other micky mouse codes.

    • SLF says:

      12:05pm | 29/06/12

      Penalties are fine…..and I am an England fan.

      After 120 minutes they are the best way to settle a game. The are a fundamental part of the game, they don’t require rules changing and they do not stifle the game totally like Silver and Golden Goal did.

      The reality is that very few teams play for penalties, however because football is hard, teams often find it tough to beat each other. All this idea that teams shut up shop is clearly from people who don’t watch the game, it really does not happen. Otherwise lots of games would not be decided by late goals.

      In the EPL for example around 8$ of games end 0-0.
      http://www.bettingexpert.com/blog/how-often-nil-all-draw-in-football

      Compared to:
      League - 75m wide goal, formulaic structure to ensure each team gets a turn and 3 ways to score.

      AFL - 2 lots of goals, so you get a point for missing. The ability to have a shot without anyone being able to stop you and goals that are stupidly high.

      Union - A 75m wide goal and 3 ways to score.

      It is obvious more soccer games will end in a draw, because it is harder and all the other games are far easier because the goal scoring areas are massive.

    • A Babs says:

      12:36pm | 29/06/12

      First up, Samuel was not into football back in the 1990s and early 2000s. To continue on with the theme the penalties are the worst possible way to finish after normal time except for all the other options.

      The implication is that the penalties are what they are. These top level players are coming off 60 games (league, cups, champions league, internationals) and fatigue and sharpness does come into it.

      As for people going on about football fans rioting. NOTE: if most of europe followed AFL or baseball they would still behave the same. Its not football, its the people. If you for example go to Poland the society is homogenous with most people having similar life experiences and they can therefore easily relate to each other. Sport or in this instance Football becomes an instrument of difference for a minority of thickheads which in Melbourne for example would get into pub fights and would trash the trains.

      In Australia we are all different and sport is the only common experience that we use to relate to one another. For example a person of Irish Catholic background from South Melbounre may not have much in common, background wise, with a Muslim man of Turkish background from Broadmeadows. The only thing they will ever be able to RELATE to is footy which is why everyone in Victoria pretends that they like footy.

      Its not about liking footy and by the way the viewing figures for footy do not support its ‘popularity’ its about RELATING to ONE ANOTHER.

      In Europe this is easy to do. Its not worse or better its just what it is.

      You are more likely to get your head smashed in or be glassed in a Sydney or Melbourne bar than in Krakow or Barcelona.

      These European societies are not more violent it is just that sport provides a different purpose in Aus and the US than it does in Europe and South America. In Aus and the US sport is about leaving your problems in the real world and having a carnival atmosphere whereas in Europe there are not as many problems outside of the sporting ground and the sporting ground therefore becomes an outlet for idiots that every country has.

    • Greg says:

      03:39pm | 29/06/12

      A Babs what you just w is one of the most insanely idiotic things i have ever read, at no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought.  Everyone in this blog is now dumber for having read it. I award you no points and may god have mercy on your soul.

      Europe doesn’t have problems does it? Europe is stuffed massive levels of debt and unemployment, and you act as if multiculturalism only exists in Australia.

      Explain the idiots in Lygon street this morning throwing flares and stuff they are in Australia so by your logic they shouldn’t behave like that but yet they do?
      Explain for me why they tried to burn Vancouver down after losing the Stanley cup last year, by your logic they are following American sports and should behave because they can’t relate.

      And lastly yep everyone just pretends to like football so they can relate to each other…...

    • ABabs says:

      03:45pm | 30/06/12

      Response to Greg:
      Your language indicates that you are in year 10 and that i shouldn’t bother but i can’t help it- sick with the flu and nothing better to do.

      Read my post again. I did not say that Europe does not have problems. What i was saying was that sports serves different purposes in for eg Europe than it does here or in the States and comparing the two or saying that football causes riots is ridiculous.

      The European countries are largely monolithic cultures (most -not all). To provide an example AGAIN, Italy is a mostly catholic country. Whilst there are big differences between the regions these differences are not cultural.

      What is the first thing you were asked for at school, work etc? What are you? The implication here is that we all have an exotic backgrounds. You may have Muslim, christian (catholic/protestant/orthodox), jewish coworkers with very different backgrounds.

      As for everyone pretending to like footy. I stand by this. check the viewing figures-these do not support the hype. A muslim delivery driver delivering a package to a jewish guy in caulfield has zero in common with him. However they can give each other ribbing for ‘footy results’ to RELATE to each others. In Europe it is much easier to relate to each other as most people have shared cultural experiences.

      As for Vancouver or idiots bashing each other around the MCG after footy games, i am not discussing the idiocies of western sports i am explaining that hooliganism has absolutely nothing to do with football.

      It is a European societal problem. If you can’t see that, it is your problem.

      Again you mentioned the Lygon Italians. Again what were the flares about but signifying the difference? See the difference Greg- your point confirms my thesis. All the Italians dressed in collingwood gear are saying we are just like you whilst dressed in azzurri gear and throwing flares what are they saying? That is a big FU to all the aussie trash that has called them ‘wogs or oily or sleazy or whatever’ throughout their lives.

      ITS simple. Football in Europe is about differences between people whilst the major codes in Aus/US serve to give people something to relate to because they do not have many other things to relate to.

      What can people from Broadmeadows, caulfield, South Melb or Werribee relate to? The beaches? The schooling? Likewise for people from Bondi, Campbelltown, Liverpool the Shire.

      Think about it again Greg when you go to your office (doubt it) on Monday what else do you have in common with your coworkers? What would you talk about?

      All countries have problems and all people can be violent. In Melbourne being a violent thug involves going into the city getting blind and getting into a fight. In Sydney it means going into a leagues club and doing the same in Krakow or Brescia it may mean getting plastered and going to a football game. 

      Stay classy Greg and i recommend you go back to school and travel a bit to see first hand what the world is like.

    • Anubis says:

      01:02pm | 29/06/12

      The best way to reduce soccer violence and hooliganism linked to frustration due to it being a pathetic game would be to do the penalty shootout right at the start, make a decision on who wins from this 5 minutes of ‘play’, announce the winner and let every one go home. This would allow every one to abandon the pretext that soccer is an actual sport.

    • Murray says:

      03:39pm | 29/06/12

      Wasn’t it great to watch England lose on penalty shots - England are the most over rated footballing nation in the world. They play teams like Moldova to boost their world rankings yet fail time and time again against quality opposition. How is this for a record:
      14 Euros and England have NEVER made the final.
      19 World Cups and made the final once (in England)

      Last 3 times they have played Australia and England have lost once and drawn twice.

      I am completely over the football media in this country who rate England and give that side valuable media space that would be more appropriately used talking about the Socceroos.

    • italy 2 germany 1 says:

      04:24pm | 29/06/12

      in the 20th century , Italy was bad at penalty shootouts and lost most times.
      Italy famously lost a penalty shootout to lose to brazil in 1994 World Cup Final! 4-3 on penalties!

      in the 21st century, Italy is good at penalty shootouts and wins mopst times.
      Italy famously won a penalty shootout to defeat france in 2006 World Cup Final. 5-4 on penalties!

    • Bruce says:

      05:55pm | 29/06/12

      No mention yet of “Why England Lose”  by Kuper and Szymanksi? How can that be? Penalty taking is a SKILL and NOT a lottery and these guys have the data to back that up. They are a combination of game theory and execution.

      Everyone knows that penalties are a likely result in these games yet they don’t seem to do enough of their homework and practice to deal with it.

    • renold says:

      07:48pm | 29/06/12

      Had a good laugh over the comment of an Italian supporter

      “the pope must be really annoyed”

    • trevor whatever says:

      10:00pm | 29/06/12

      It happens after every major tournament in which a team bombs out after pens… someone rehashes the argument that deciding a game on spot kick is inhumane.

      the bottom line is that if you can’t win a game in 120+ minutes, you may as well toss a coin.

      also worth noting that neutrals, who would have to make up over 50 per cent of viewers in most games, love a penalty shoot out.

    • jack black says:

      08:45am | 04/07/12

      soccer is the most followed sport in the world, and for a reason… it’s perfect!

      golden goal was around for a while. Euro 96 was decided by one but it was considered too unfair! besides, what happens in golden goal (or sudden death, a name that i much prefer) is that teams ended up being much more defensive with fear of losing the game instantly.

      the game is perfect.

 

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