Thursday, October 26, 2006


The Penalty Curse - update

The often excellent Mike Gibbons over at Planet World Cup has recently produced his own article on the eternal penalty issue, which has come into somewhat sharper focus since Sepp Blatter, in a rare moment of sense, decried the use of penalties to decide this year's World Cup final.

Blatter, sadly, has not shown much imagination in his suggestions for a solution. A replay is obviously the only completely fair method, but with the international calendar as brutally tight as it is, there are obvious problems with it.

I've said enough on the subject in my three earlier pieces, but Gibbons makes a suggestion of his own: the "winning goal" method (to be used for the final only, apparently). Partly since he has also dismissed as "ludicrous" my own preferred method of foul count, I'll return the compliment and describe his favoured solution as not just silly, but dangerous.

Essentially, it's merely an extension of the "Golden Goal" system put in place by FIFA following the 1994 World Cup. In extra time, the first goal decided the game.

It was a worthwhile experiment, but two things scuppered it: the grimly defensive tactics adopted by so many international managers, and the generally timorous attitude adopted by teams in extra time, when they knew that allowing the opposition one breakaway could be fatal.

FIFA were right to try it, and equally justified in eventually abandoning it. And there is no reason to believe it would work any better now, given the craven tactics currently fashionable in world football.

But extending extra time indefinitely until a goal is scored? What is Gibbons thinking?

Doesn't he remember that Portugal, one of the semi-finalists, went six hours without scoring a goal during the tournament?

Doesn't he remember that the World Cup is a summer competition, and that those playing in the final will have contested seven matches in four weeks, some of which might have gone to extra time as well? Doesn't he remember the name Marc-Vivien Foe?

Comparisons with schoolyard football, with its vastly different goal-to-time ratio, are just, dare I say, ludicrous.

This problem was solved decades ago in a different sport. By having a separate scoring opportunity from the main goal it made it possible to separate teams when goal counts were equal. The sport that chose this solution is AFL.

Another idea might not be in replays or extra time or whatever, but creating rules that does not allow excess defending as a tactic. But again that is what Basketball does to solve this problem.

For World Cup Finals; I think if it is a draw then it should remain a draw. Then there is no winner for that World Cup. To be honest I would have preferred that scenario then what actually occurred.
What about adopting a variant on the "away goals" rule used in many tournaments. As occurs now, one team is designated the "home" team which carries certain privileges (choice of uniform, for example). The other team is, naturally, the designated "away" team.

If scores are even at full-time, the "away" team wins on the away goals rule. This provides the "home" team with the incentive to press for an all-out win, and the "away" team with the incentive to have to at least score.

If the scores are tied at 0-0, then maybe it's worth looking at some modified defensive rules in extra time. Maybe, a la basketball, you could limit the number of defenders in the penalty box at a corner or free kick inside the defensive half to say 4 plus the keeper, with the attacking side being allowed 5. The other players would have to remain outside the penalty box until the kick has been taken and been touched by another player.
I'm still convinced that the method of taking players off the pitch would be the best in terms of viewing whilst still remaining fair.

I'd shorten extra time to 110 mins (10 each way), and then every ten minutes make each team take two players off. Realistically it is then hard to see the game going beyond 130mins (7 per side?!?! =D ), marginally longer than it goes now.

There then only comes two questions:
*Who is the decider of who comes off? I'd be in favour of the coach of each side, but there are those who hate the idea of a "chess match" between two men on the sideline (an idea I understand even though I don't agree). The only other option is random selection but I don't like the idea of random anything.
*Player fatigue. Remember the FA Cup Final last year? The moment it hit 100mins I knew it was going to penalties, the players were cramping due to the hard pitch and the pace the game had been played at. Marlon Harewood could barely move beyond 110mins, he was often stationary up front when off-the-ball. This is where extra subs need to be looked at for the player's sake (Two per team beyond 110mins?). Of interesting note is that England benches only have 5 subs, and French teams only 6. Yet another change involved then ;)
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