Friday, November 10, 2006



Paul Gardner, World Soccer's always controversial American scribe, has devoted his editorial space in the most recent issue of the magazine to the issue of penalty shoot-outs (the recent comments from Blatter have certainly re-ignited the eternal argument).

Gardner's proposed solution is not one of the trendier ones, like player removal or shots on goal. He favours decision by corner count, one of the older proposals which somehow fell out of favour.

I've never been able to take it particularly seriously, given that, for a start, the count is often so low. There are plenty of games which feature only five or six corners altogether; the corner statistic, in that case, is virtually meaningless (as any mathematician worth his salt would tell you).

One other objection I have to such a method is that corners for the same side often follow each other in close succession (due to headed clearances, etc.). In other words, a side might end up being rewarded for five minutes' solid pressure rather than ninety.

Having said that, there is a little to recommend the corner count. Looking back through the stats for the recent drawn A-League games, the side whom I felt played the more enterprising football did generally force the more corners.

But here's an interesting little fact. Melbourne Victory are currently standing on top of the table with a near-perfect score; one would expect their corner count to be formidable by comparison with their opposition.

Yet, in the majority of their games, they have conceded the more corners. Even against the Knights in Auckland, they were "outnumbered" six corners to four. And yet they won 4-0!

I believe the explanation for this lies partly in Melbourne's style of play. They play largely (though not exclusively) through the middle, favouring the central thrust to the release out wide; the excellent Fred, nominally a right-winger for much of the season, tends rather to roam around just behind the forward-line much like a No. 10.

In my experience, sides playing like this generally force fewer corners than either sides with two genuine wide men or long-ball specialists. Yet it seems against the spirit of the game - and certainly against Paul Gardner's principles - to indirectly punish sides who prefer the intelligent central build-up.

Although this is the model i seem to remember in my under 7's finals, I can't stand the idea.
Corners would surely become as equivalent to a behind in aussie rules, and due to their great potential to decide the winner, become a 'goal' in themselves.
This would surely change the game 'as we know it'.
One possible solution to the problem that I haven't seen mooted for a while is that of simply (incrementally?) expanding the goals during extra time. Okay, its more of a means of increasing the chances of resolving the dispute in extra time rather than replacing shoot-outs themselves, but it has its merits. It promotes positive play in a probably exciting fashion, but more importantly retains the spirit of football: putting the ball in the back of the net during play.
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