One of the most remarkable aspects of the current penalty shoot-out set-up is the way it transforms what has been up to that point a team game into an individual event. What’s more, it’s an individual event with perhaps the highest stakes in any sport.
When your turn comes to step forward, you leave the team group behind on the halfway line, and make your way up alone. You get only one shot, unless you’re Jamie Carragher, and that one shot has – on recent experience – at least a fifty percent chance of deciding not only your fate, but your team’s, and perhaps your country’s too.
Is there another event like it? A 100m sprint final takes less long, but you aren’t doing it alone. Jumpers and throwers act alone, but have several attempts to show what they can do. Darts and snooker are lonely sports, but you have time to compose yourself. Taking a penalty gives you time only to experience apprehension and fear.
It all leads up to an event of unparalleled tension and drama. There is nothing like it elsewhere in sport. Not even banned sports could match it: at least in a duel your opponent was in the same fix as yourself.
Perhaps it’s too exciting to change, but if it were to be changed, this idea might be one to consider.
Each team nominates three players who will take all of their penalties. These three players are allowed to approach the penalty area together, as company for each other, but are not permitted to be in the line of sight of the opposing goalkeeper during kicks.
Each team takes three penalties. At the end of the three, the team who have scored the most of theirs are considered to have won the first set. There are two more sets, of the same kind, and best of three wins. If all three sets are drawn, which is highly unlikely, then the team leading after five sets wins. Or after seven, or after nine.. but that’s not going to happen.
What this means is that matches are decided quickly, in a reasonably exciting way, but in a team situation. The players know that if they miss one kick, it isn’t necessarily the end of the world. They will have the chance to redeem themselves shortly. Nor are they acting alone.
It’s a team ending, for a team game. It would make for a fairer reflection of the talents of the two teams. It would be – don’t you agree? – trainable for. And there’s always the chance of an highly televisual psychological collapse by one of the players..
But it wouldn’t be quite the same: