In the last two days there were two exciting soccer matches that went down to the wire to see the favorite lose on penalties. One was the Women’s World Cup final with Japan defeating the U.S. The other was a strong Uruguay team defeating a supposedly world class Argentinian team on Argentine soil in the quarterfinals of the Copa America. These were thrilling matches, where all four of the teams deserved victories, yet I have to question if taking penalties is the way to decide the outcome in World Class competitions.
Currently the World Cup is contested every four years. That is a long time between each one, considering the 24-7 news media and the 10 year span most great players are well, great. This increases the stakes of each match, especially with the microscope that national teams find themselves under. It almost seems anti-climatic to have a full 120 minutes played for a match to have five players take a shot from the spot. This would be akin to the NBA deciding game 7 of the NBA finals on a free throw competition (sorry Shaq).
Therefore, I am going to propose a few alternatives to PKs.
First, I’m going to hearken the old NASL days, and suggest the Shootout. When the game was tied after extra time, the ball was placed 35 yards back and the player had five seconds to try to score on the keeper. This is much harder and requires more skill then the PK. Even former NASL alums Pele, Cruyff, and Beckenbauer suggested the change to FIFA. Of course, FIFA didn’t budge.
Downside: The same core issue with Penalties exists with the Shootout. It’s still two individuals and no team effort.
The Golden Goal (or sudden death) is another format that has been used for ending a game. It is dramatic, and calls for a team effort. But I really like the idea of using the Golden Goal after the 30 minutes of extra time has expired. And I’d still recommend continuing to switch ends every 15 minutes until a goal is scored. This would require teams to go for it and not just sit back waiting to take penalties.
Downside: Just like in the NFL, a quick score could be unsettling without the opportunity to respond. Yet it seems strange to just end a game after a goal, especially if that goal is a quick one. But
Keep the Penalties?
If penalties are kept, because FIFA is usually change resistant to the detriment of the game, I would recommend this one huge but non-on field change. Play the World Cup every two to three years. If this is done then a losing team can avenge the defeat in a couple of years.
Downside: To me, there isn’t a good argument against this. There are enough countries with the facilities and infrastructure in place to host allowing for more countries to host. It also doesn’t cheapen the event, because teams would still take it ultra-seriously. The Champions League isn’t cheapened, or less big, because its played every year, is it?
To close, FIFA would be wise to look at changes to this format. It would be an easy way to help FIFA show they are listening to fans and help restore a bit of credibility to the organization. Readers, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this issue!