Supposedly the simplest act in football but the hardest to perfect? Elated screams of joy when awarded turn to anxiety within seconds as the expectancy that the back of the net will bulge is soon replaced with the fear of the unthinkable miss. The penalty kick. 12 yards from glory!
Taken in a matter of seconds some penalties can define a career. When you think of Roberto Baggio the first thing that springs to mind isn’t his mesmerising run in the 1990 world cup against Czechoslovakia that united a nation and won goal of the tournament, it’s the moment 4 years later when he stepped up against Brazil and lost the tournament by blazing his spot kick into the heavens. There has of course been other high profile misses, David Beckham’s sorry look at the turf as he cleared the goal and almost the stadium against Turkey or former Argentina striker Martin Palermo who missed a hat trick of spot kicks in the same match for the national side in 1999 against Columbia.
What technique should be applied? There are many from which to choose, from the lazy roll of a Berbatov or Yakuku to the power an accuracy of Alan Shearer and who could forget the cheeky eloquent chip from Di Canio or Antonín Panenka who under immense pressure won the European Championship of 1976 with this supremely confident –or risky-method. A penalty doesn’t have to be a shot at goal, Pires and Henry tried unsuccessfully to emulate the great Ajax masters Johan Cruyff and Jesper Olsen by beautifully laying the ball off to the side, drawing the keeper from goal and then passing it back to slide into an empty goal….genius or arrogance?
So who is the best? You will have your own opinion which may be based on the club that you follow. Burnley fans wouldn’t have to look past their stalwart captain Graham Alexander who has amassed nearly 70 successful conversions from the spot. There are no shortage of candidates that could enter this debate, any football trivia buff may argue that with 48 out of 49 converted its got to be Southampton legend Matt Le Tissier who oozed coolness and seemed to have a sixth sense as to where the goalkeeper was diving. Is it all about stats though or is it about who you would want to be standing there in the last minute of a cup final with the chance to win you the game, you can bet that in the early 1990’s Alex Ferguson would have put his house on Dennis Irwin scoring with his guiding precision into either corner.
It could all be down to mentality. Some nations are traditionally thought of as favourites in a penalty shoot out, the efficiency, power and accuracy of the Germans seems to prevail more often than some others who are left wondering what could have been with their head in hands. Some top players could have greatly enhanced there scoring records but chose not to be ‘the penalty taker’ notably Andy Cole.
Opinion may differ but one thing that cannot be called into question is the enormous pressure of the situation, it’s a moment within a team sport where its one man against another, a metaphoric boxing ring where only one man can win and this feeling reverberates around a stadium and gives us all a rush of excitement which adds to our love for the sport
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