I am not a football fan but follow the game in a casual manner and so learned that Italy beat England in the European Cup yesterday. The score was 1-1 at the end of regulation time.
I did not watch the game and my opinion on it would be worthless anyway but what I want to discuss is the way that the game was decided, by means of a penalty shootout that Italy won 3-2. Whether a goal is scored or not depends a lot on whether the goal keeper manages to guess correctly the intentions of the penalty kicker as to where in the goal the ball is being targeted.
While I understand the need to find a way to quickly end a game when the scores are tied, this seems to me to be a particularly bad method. Given the difficulty of scoring goals which makes ties likely, this form of the tiebreaker has been used in many high-profile games, even deciding Olympic gold medals.
There are so many different football skills, such as dribbling, passing, heading, teamwork, shooting at goal, and goal tending. There may be more that football aficionados can list. The penalty shoot out only requires the last two and thus is not reflective of the game as a whole. A team can win on a shootout despite having been generally outplayed by their opponents during the regulation period.
I would much rather have tiebreakers consist of a short period of extra time but with each side’s numbers greatly reduced, say to five (or even to three) plus the goal keeper. This would make the scoring of goals more likely but still require all the skills that football requires. I think a result produced by that method would be less likely to leave the players and fans of the losing side feel frustrated that they deserved to win but that it was bad luck that cost them. The opinions on the game that I read say that Italy in general played better, at least as measured in terms of time of possession and attempts at goal, and was probably the best team in the tournament but they could very easily have lost the tiebreaker.
The system that I am suggesting seems to me too obvious to have been overlooked by football’s governing bodies. I suspect that there is some fatal flaw in it that I cannot see that prevents it being adopted and I am curious as to what it might be. I know that there are serious football fans among this blog’s readership and if they can tell me, I would appreciate it.
The tiebreaker system that tennis uses seems to me to be one of the best methods. It consists of a single game with the service switching after every two serves, and a margin of just two points required to win. It is the same basic idea of scoring as regular tennis but simpler. It almost always results in a quick decision but still requires all the player’s tennis skills. The tennis equivalent of the football tiebreaker would be to have players just serve and count the number of aces to decide the game. That would be just awful.