Ghana’s pain shows penalty shootouts a cruel game
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Penalty shootouts … the old chestnut. Apparently there’s no better way of deciding a winner when the scores can’t be split, but try telling that to Ghanaian pair Dominic Adiyiah and John Mensah, or even Asamoah Gyan, after the Black Stars crashed out of the World Cup on penalties to Uruguay this morning.
Football can be a cruel game, but it’s never more cruel when a World Cup match comes down to a penalty shootout.
The tears which were shed by the Ghanaian players at Soccer City overnight testify to that. For the neutrals, Ghana’s pain made it hard to smile at Uruguay’s joy.
The fact is, inevitably, a penalty shootout creates a villain. Occasionally a hero is born (John Aloisi anyone?), but always a villain is made.
And with not only the weight of the nation on your shoulders, but also, in Ghana’s peculiar case, the weight of the African continent, the burden of a spotkick can be hard to handle.
Failing can leave someone understandably inconsolable. After all, the villain is always remembered.
Ponder Italy’s Roberto Baggio who was a star of the 1994 World Cup in USA with five goals, before he skied his spotkick over the crossbar in the final which handed Brazil the title 3-2 on penalties
Few will remember Brazil still had another spotkick to come which would’ve clinched it anyway had Baggio converted his. But inevitably the dramatic turn of events which saw a hero turn to a villain in the fraction of the moment is hard to ignore, nor forget. In some ways, a legend was made, but a cruel one.
On the other hand, who remembers the player who struck the winning penalty four years ago when Italy defeated France 5-3 on penalties in the World Cup final in Berlin.
It’s more than likely you will remember Zinedine Zidane being sent off or maybe David Trezeguet missing his spotkick, but can you recall Italy’s ‘hero’?
It was, of course, none other than our old mate Fabio Grosso.
The penalty shootout, though, is theatre and entertainment and it provides a resolution for the viewers. But it’s also a cruel game for the actors.
Some might say it’s the drama of the sport, but it seems artificial to me.
Some will argue that’s the challenge of a penalty shootout. Having the mentality and strength of mind to handle the pressure which comes with the situation.
They’d say penalty shootouts are not pot luck. Rather the shootout decides who has the mental strength required to win.
Hold your nerve and you’re the victor.
But is that the ultimate measure for who is a better football side? Perhaps it’s the most convenient, but it’s also the cruellest.
But this trail of thought is a well-travelled one and there’s few better alternative solutions, especially at a World Cup when there’s precious little time for a replay (although there’s some merit in the idea of replays for the World Cup Final, which really shouldn’t be decided this way).
You’ve probably heard the idea of each team removing a player every 5-10 minutes once a game goes into extra-time, in order to open it up and hopefully see someone break through for a winner.
But again, that’s a logistical nightmare at a World Cup, with there being no guaranteed timeframe for a resolution, ala the recent Wimbledon match between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut. As the Isner example shows too, a non-tiebreaker brings in the issue of fatigue in future rounds.
Maybe FIFA could draw lots like they do when two teams are inseparable in the group stage at a World Cup? It’d be less cruel, but it’d provide a lot less entertainment.
Maybe penalty shootouts are the best solution? I don’t know.
But witnessing the dreaded spotkicks in action in the early hours of this morning it was hard not to feel for the players on the losing side.
And that made me think, and hope, that there’s a better solution. I’d love to hear your thoughts or suggestions…