Afe for Vanguard

February 14, 2024

The continued relevance of penalty shoot-out in soccer, by Afe Babalola

Afe Babalola

Chief Afe Babalola(SAN)

IN a divided world, humanity has always found common denominators. One of these is soccer, also referred to as football. 

Soccer at a glimpse Soccer is the world’s most popular spot. It is a game played by two opposing teams of eleven players each with the object of getting the ball into the opposing team’s goal. The unique trait of the game is that players cannot touch the ball with their arms. The only players that can touch the ball with their arms are goalkeepers and this is only within the 18-yard boxes of their respective goalposts. The team with the highest goals by the end of the regulation time wins the match.

Initially, soccer was a college sport and the players were neither paid nor given the opportunity to go pro. However, in the 1870s a few clubs charged spectators admission fees. Players therefore clamoured for and received compensations for their trainings and game times. As the popularity of the sport grew so did the spectators and the revenue. 

Eventually soccer became a professional sport with a global fan-base of above five billion (by 2021 statistics). The popularity and wide acceptance of soccer today is a product of the love and acceptance it enjoyed from spectators across the globe. 

Soccer: A game of skill, tact and teamwork

A soccer team has two goals: Scoring more goals than its opponents and preventing the other team from scoring them back. 

The soccer team is therefore structured in such a way to guarantee these goals. These are:

1. The Goalkeeper: each team positions a goalkeeper right in front of its goalpost. The goalkeeper tries to prevent the ball played by the opposing team from entering the goal post. 

2. The Defenders: these are the next line of protection for the goalpost. They protect the team’s goalpost and goalkeepers. 

3. The Midfielders: these are players who bridge the large greenspace between the defenders and the forwards (the players of the team charged primarily with that goal-scoring responsibility). The midfielders play the double role of transmitting the balls from the defenders to the forwards as well as the initial defence line to prevent the balls of the other team from reaching their defenders. 

4. The Forwards or Attackers: These are charged with the responsibilities to secure a win through scoring goals. 

5. The Reserves: Each team is also allowed to present limited number of players as potential substitutes for players on the field, should the need arise. 

When a player is with the ball, the team members try to position themselves to receive the ball and further the intention of the team, which is to win. On the other hand the players in the other team try to get the ball from the player with the ball using tackling or interceptions. To retain the ball therefore, each player uses a series of stylish short kicks of the ball called dribbling to run down the field. Longer kicks are used to pass the ball to supporting players. All with the intention of getting the ball into the net of the opponents. 

Many players have therefore concentrated on severe trainings to sharpen their ball control, retention, and effective ball play within their position on the team. This is together with the training to play for as long as possible on the football pitch which is 105 meters long and 68 meters wide. Players have devoted hours to daily practice, whether on the pitch or in private practice spaces to perfect their skills. There are players who have distinguished themselves in the history of soccer and have won the hearts of fans. These are: JJ Okocha, Kanu Nwankwo, Diego Maradona, Kaka, Pele, Ronaldinho, Wayne Rooney, David Becham, Christiano Ronaldo, Mohammed Salah, Didier Drogba, Lionel Messi, and Thierry Henry, to mention a few. 

Soccer is therefore a game of individual skill and mastery tied with teamwork to achieve success. 

The sport allows three officials to ensure that the teams play by the rules of the sport. Where these rules are flaunted the officials are empowered to give warnings or playing advantages against the erring team as punishment. One of such punishments is the penalty.   

The Penalty 

A penalty is a direct free kick taken within 12 yards from the goal line by a player and the goalkeeper of the other team without interference from any other player on either team. Penalties surface in the game of soccer in two forms. First, as a punishment when a foul is committed by a player within his or her 18-yard box. The purpose of this penalty kick is to maintain fair play, prevent dangerous play, and provide opportunity for the attacking team to score a goal.  

The tides however changed in 1970 when a second form of penalty was introduced to soccer. This is the Penalty Shoot-out. 

Penalty shoot-outs are used as tie-breakers in knockout games or cup competitions when a game is tied at the final whistle (usually after extra time). The team which scores the highest goals in a best of five series wins. If a penalty shoot-out is tied, then the two teams continue taking one penalty kick each until one team has scored more goals than the other. The longest penalty shoot-out ever was between KK Palace and the Civics and finished with KK Palace winning 17–16 after 48 penalty kicks. This penalty shoot-out took place at the end of the final of the 2005 Namibian Cup after the game finished with a 2-2 draw.

A penalty shoot-out is a game of skill, technique, and execution. However, we have witnessed some of the world’s best players miss penalties. This is because there are other factors that influence the success or otherwise of the penalty shoot-out. These are luck, the team that takes the first penalty, the pressure of the moment, the quality of goalkeepers and sometimes, the fans closest to the goal post where the penalty shoot-outs are taken. Likewise, only players who are on the field at the time the final whistle is blown will be allowed to play the penalty. Hence, where a player who is a better penalty taker had been substituted or sent off the field before the final whistle, such player will not be allowed to take part in the penalty shoot-out. 

Additionally, some of the rules in the penalty kick apply to the penalty shoot-out. For example:

1.  The goalkeeper must stay on the goal line until the ball is struck. He is free to move along the line, in anticipation of where the ball will be played. However, they can only spring forward off their line after the kicker connects with the ball.

2. The rules allow the kicker to make slight dummies in their run-up to try to outwit the goalkeeper. However, when they reach their final stride, the kick must be in one fluid motion.

3. Suppose a goalkeeper gets injured or cannot continue during a penalty shoot-out, they may be replaced by another player on their team, or a named substitute, if the team has not yet used their full quota of substitutions during the game.

4. Goalkeepers can distract the penalty taker by talking to them. Tim Krul, the Netherlands goalkeeper, used this technique against Costa Rica in the 2014 FIFA World Cup quarter-finals. He told the Costa Rica players he “knew where they were going to take their penalty”. Krul saved two penalties and Netherlands won the game 4-3.

Penalty shoot-outs are against the spirit of soccer

I believe strongly that penalty shoot-outs are not a true reflection of the spirit of soccer. The key elements of soccer are the combination of skills, tact and teamwork. This is the reason many players dedicate hours to personal and collective training and evolve a gameplay that aligns with the individual strength of the players, as well as guarantees a win. 

Penalty shoot-outs bring into the game, other extraneous factors, such as luck and individual abilities. This leaves the team at the mercy of a highly tensed player and keeper per time making the team rise and fall on the actions and/or inactions of one. 

I believe a better approach to resolving a deadlock at the end of the regulation time is for the two teams to be allowed to re-play the match at another day. This ensures that the better team emerges the winner, especially in a title competition. This also has a ripple effect of giving the fans better satisfaction for the win as well as further generating funds for the sponsors.  In this scenario, everyone wins, and the deserved is crowned the winner as a team. 

Conclusion 

Penalty shoot-out is an anomaly that has outrun its utility in contemporary soccer. It is time to let each team win as they ought to as a team. This is the true spirit of soccer. 

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