Chris O (follow on Twitter: @COakleyFtbl)
Wed 4 October 2006

When the Pools Panel just won't do...

I read with interest that Sepp Blatter, President of FIFA, has expressed his dissatisfaction at the way penalty shoot-outs settle drawn matches. Hmmm. That’s a worry. When Herr Blatter opens his mouth, one of the following usually happens:

(a) the laws of football are changed
(b) someone gets offended, or
(c) he inserts one of his feet.

Sepp Blatter is no stranger to controversy. In 2006 he proclaimed that 'football was a man's game and women should only play if they wore skimpy shorts.' OK, controversial he may be, but I think you’ll agree he’s not completely insane.

So what are we to do with the penalty shoot-out system and what alternatives could we embrace?

Perhaps we should turn to America, a country known to be intolerant of sporting events that end in a draw. Back in the days of the old North American Soccer League, a ‘Shootout’ would ensue whereby the kicker would run towards the goal from 35 yards out and have 5 seconds to stick the ball in the back of the net.

It meant the audience would see a variety of creative and entertaining approaches used to beat the keeper, like the one used by Hugo Sanchez whereby he'd flip the ball 20 yards up into the air before volleying it goalwards. Some players preferred to dribble around the keeper while others would shoot from a long way out, but whatever technique was used, it was regularly good fun to watch from a spectator’s point of view.

Some say that penalty shoot-outs don’t work because the onus is on one player from either team to settle the result, whereas football by its very nature is a team game. Why not, then, use the method favoured by some where, during the extra time period, one player from either team is withdrawn from the pitch every few minutes. With the growing space that would occur on the pitch, surely there'd be more chance of a goal being scored?

Maybe, but I think this would be a messy system to enforce. I think it could be made simpler by making the teams withdraw six players each at half-time in extra time. Or simpler yet, make both teams play extra time without their goalkeepers and prevent outfield players from entering the six-yard box? That would no doubt see a dearth of ambitious long-range shots, one of which would be bound to go in. A great system, especially if your name’s Xavi Alonso.

Once upon a time, replays were used to find a winner to a tied match, but this is a lengthy, drawn out method which as rightfully been dropped in the modern era. The FA Cup has, on occasions, seen a tie settled after as many as six replays, but even the use of one is seen as too many these days.

Maybe the amount of goals scored by teams in previous rounds should be taken into account? Well, maybe not. Though this at first seems like a good way to encourage teams to score more goals in all matches, it doesn’t, of course, allow for the occasional thrashing dished out by a big team over a lesser one.

So that would appear to be all the options under consideration then... except one. In World Cups and European matches from the black-and-white era, it wasn’t uncommon for the winner of a drawn game to be decided by the referee tossing a coin at the end of the game. Now how refreshingly simple that would be. Teams would try and score more goals for fear of losing the toss (should it be needed) and no time-consuming, elaborate system would need to be used either.

Perfect - in fact it’s just the sort of crazy, bizarre system that a man like Sepp Blatter would wholeheartedly approve of.

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