Get rid of penalty shoot outs in soccer


Argentina beat France in the World Cup final earlier today. The game was decided by a penalty shoot out after the score was tied at 3-3 after extra time. Five of the 15 games in the knockout round were decided by this method: Croatia v. Japan and Morocco v. Spain in the round of 16; Croatia v. Brazil and Argentina v. Netherlands in the quarter-finals, and the final. This was the most number of shoot outs in the knock out rounds in World Cup history.

I think the penalty shoot out is an unsatisfactory way of deciding games. I think this system does not adequately reflect the merits of the competing teams. Each of the five losing teams (Japan, Spain, Brazil, Netherlands, and France) may feel that they should not have lost. I wrote about this back in 2021 (revised slightly here) after Italy beat England on penalties in the European Cup, describing what I think might be a better system.

There are so many different football skills, such as dribbling, passing, heading, teamwork, tackling, 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 seven (or 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 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 awful.

I freely offer this suggestion to FIFA, while acknowledging that I do not follow soccer closely and thus may be ignorant of flaws in my idea.

Comments

  1. Lassi Hippeläinen says

    I’ll suggest also another twist: the players for the extra time must be selected from the substitutes that were not needed in the full play. This would favour those teams who have many good players, and not just a few superstars. And it also gives the bench warmers a change to play in an important game.

  2. another stewart says

    It’s used to be that if a knock-out competition fixture ended in a draw there would be a replay. (It might still be the case for some competitions.) The problem with this is firstly fitting the replay into the schedule, and secondly the winner of the replay is disadvantaged in the next round by the team being tired from the extra match. This wouldn’t be a problem for replays for the final and playoffs.

    Some European club competitions were (are?) played over two legs (home and away) and if the aggregate score was tied the team that scored the greater number of away goals went through. I don’t know offhand what happened if that didn’t resolve things, but it may well have been a penalty shootout

  3. rojmiller says

    Penalty kicks are ridiculous -- the shooter is too close to the goal, so the goalie usually has to choose a direction to dive before the shooter’s foot hits the ball. So it comes down to luck -- how often the goalie chooses correctly which way to dive. Several good examples in this shootout, where the goalie chose the wrong direction, or in two cases chose a direction and dove, and the ball went straight up the middle into the net. It looks absurd to see the goalie dive one way and the ball go the other -- I’m amazed that this ridiculous system is used to decide the world champion!

    And get rid of “extra time”. Use a time clock system as in hockey or North American football. Apparently a recent study indicated that only about 1/2 of the lost time in soccer is actually added as extra time. If someone is already keeping track of time, why not have them work a time clock that stops on every stoppage of play (and every fake injury).

    And if players are really injured so often, why aren’t they all wearing some lightweight but strong and flexible protection on their shins and insteps? It would probably greatly reduce all these supposed injuries. The best one was one I saw years ago where the player was so badly injured he had to be carried off on a stretcher. As so as the stretcher reached the sidelines he was miraculously cured and leapt off the stretcher.

  4. says

    Hold the penalty shoot-out first, as part of the pre-match entertainment. Both teams then begin the match knowing who will be declared the eventual winner if they score the same number of goals.

  5. Rup says

    Yeah, well, fine if you want to be thought of by 99% of footie fans as some kind of snotty aristocrat.
    King Charles might use it, though

  6. Rob Grigjanis says

    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.

    They certainly came to dominate the midfield (possession in the middle third), but convincing attempts at goal? Not so much. “shots on goal” can be very misleading. The goal which tied the game was from a fortuitous bounce off the goalpost.

    And Italy were not the best team in the tournament. That was Spain.

    I think the debate about penalty shoot-outs is a red herring. The major soccer tournaments are a crapshoot to begin with. It’s quite possible for the two best teams to meet in the quarter finals, or the semis. It’s quite possible for the best side to be beaten by probability; if a lesser side scores on a couple of low-probability chances (like shots from 30+ yards), they can beat a better side. This happens fairly often, as actual football fans could tell you. The uncertainty is part of the attraction.

    The point of a quick(ish) decision after extra time is that the two sides played football (you know, the eleven-a side game) to a stalemate (the tied games are recorded as ties). For the purpose of deciding a tournament winner, a coin toss would do. But penalties offer extra drama (joy for the victors, and pain for the losers).

    As for “improvements” on the current system, I would take the opinions of those who love the game more seriously. I remember debates about how to make the sport more popular in the US. “scrap the offside law” and “make the goals bigger” came up. To which my response (and, I suspect, a few billion others) was “fuck off”.

  7. sonofrojblake says

    “As for “improvements” on the current system, I would take the opinions of those who love the game more seriously”

    Those who love the game see no need to improve it, clearly.

    It’s only people like us, who don’t care and don’t understand the appeal, who look on baffled as to why they don’t just fix what are to us obvious problems.

  8. John Morales says

    Soccer fans are the prime problem; they have to get all aggro, since the game is so boring and the scoring is so restricted. That’s their excitement.

    cf. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-12-19/police-release-images-of-soccer-pitch-invasion/101786688

    (Footie — that is, Australian Rules — fans don’t get so tribal and excited, because the game is actually exciting)

    To be fair, at least soccer is not as boring as American Football (gridiron).

    (But then, what is? 😉 )

  9. No Respect says

    Y’all just angry because a “dirty” South American team defeated the “enlightened” European one.

    Except John. He’s not human enough to be racist, or have any real emotions at all, really.

  10. billseymour says

    … at least soccer is not as boring as American Football …

    Oh, I don’t know…American football might be the least boring of the goal games:  in basketball, they run to one end of the court and make a basket, then they run to the other end and make a basket; in ice hockey, they skate to one end of the rink and miss, then they skate to the other end and miss.  I gather that Association football (soccer) is much like hockey in that regard.

    I’m a baseball fan myself, and I can understand the appeal of cricket, although I’m almost completely ignorant of it (except for what I’ve learned from Mano’s posts).

  11. Holms says

    #8 Rob
    I cannot for the life of me understand why such a tournament structure would appeal to you, when you admit it can sometimes give the title to a team that was good enough in some games, and merely lucky in others. And don’t try to tell me all soccer fans love this, I’ve seen tears, fury, ranting at umpire decisions and the rest of it.

  12. John Morales says

    billseymour, heh.

    https://freethoughtblogs.com/singham/2014/01/21/football-is-mostly-standing-around/

    At least in soccer they mostly run around. Fuck-all scoring, but at least they actually play most of the match time, instead of a few seconds’ burst at a time, punctuated by lengthy pauses and timeouts and ad breaks and whatnot.

    I gather that Association football (soccer) is much like hockey in that regard.

    Nah. Try to watch a game, sometime.

    No Respect:

    Except John. He’s not human enough to be racist, or have any real emotions at all, really.

    Heh. Abhuman, that’s me. Emotionless, for sure.

  13. Rup says

    They should get rid of penalty shoot outs in fkitball and also tie-breaks in tennis. They play ,on till there is a winber, even if they drop

  14. fentex says

    Mano’s suggestion is similar to one freinds of mine have often suggested, for resolving ties in must win game -- take a player off each team every five minutes after full time, and it’s first to score if still tied half an hour later.

    “I’m a baseball fan myself, and I can understand the appeal of cricket, although I’m almost completely ignorant of it (except for what I’ve learned from Mano’s posts).”

    If you play baseball you mostly know cricket -- they’re the same game, just organised and scored a little differently on different fields of play.

    Rugby is the game, if you want something non-boring.

  15. Rup says

    Baseball and cricket. Yes, interesting. There are many expressions in cricket used in normal language in the UK and Ausiland.

    Did Google get the idea for its name from googly? Who knows? We might be on a stcky wicket (before anyone jumps in, I know I have warped the meaning here).

  16. Rob Grigjanis says

    Holms @14: Any tournament structure would be problematic in terms of fair outcomes unless each team played every other team. But that’s OK; I just like watching good football (which can certainly include 0-0 scores), and cheering my side on. People who seem to need double (or triple)-digit scoring can stick to cricket, basketball and rugby. Rugby at least has some redeeming features. Sevens is actually entertaining!

  17. mnb0 says

    No way. The two shoot outs of Argentina were the only parts of the tournament I couldn’t boycot (though I saw both afterwards). I don’t care what you think fair or reasonable and what complicated solutions you invent. Nothing in any sports provides more excitement and that’s the only thing that matters.

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