Wednesday, May 30, 2012


Here I wish to draw attention to just seven of them. Messi missed a penalty in Barca’s semi-final match against Chelsea in the 2011-12 edition of the Champions League, Ronaldo and Kaka of Real Madrid missed their penalties against Bayern Munich during the penalty shootout in the other semi-final, and Robben of Bayern Munich missed a penalty in the first half of extra time in the final match of the same tournament against Chelsea. Barca, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich all lost those crucial matches. These players who broke their supporters’ hearts are the regular penalty takers of their respective teams. They failed when it mattered most. And not to forget that Kaka (2007), Ronaldo (2008) and Messi (2009 – 11) have all been winners of the World Player of the Year award. In the 2007-8 edition of the same tournament, Lampard, again the regular penalty-taker of his team, Chelsea, lost his penalty in the shoot out in the final match, and Chelsea lost to Manchester United.
FIFA World Cup Finals is a far more popular and spectacular event. The quality of football may in general be a shade less exciting than in the Champions League, but here teams represent countries, and the dreams of their countrymen. People forget their daily grind and their miseries and celebrate their team’s success, and plunge into collective grief if it fails. Inspired by a sense of nationalism players in the field and the spectators in the stadium and television viewers and people at home forget their club loyalties for a while. Playing for Portugal, and one may think with his career, Cristiano Ronaldo, in the 2006 World Cup, had a role in the red-carding of his Manchester United club mate Rooney, who was playing for England. And it was a delight to see the people of Spain rising above their fierce club loyalties and celebrating their team’s winning the World Cup in 2010 for the first time. Hardly does any sporting event arouse such strong emotions as does World Cup finals.
Missing a penalty here can be heartbreaking. Brazilian Zico, who, it was said, had scored about 200 goals from penalties by then, failed to score from the spot in his team’s quarter final match against France in the second half. The match went into penalty shoot out. Zico scored, but it did not redeem him since he was seen as responsible for bringing the match to the shootout stage. On the other hand, Socrates failed to score in the shoot out but it did not matter to anyone, as people, it seems, generally to fail to see the penalty shoot out as a condensed version of a match, which it indeed is. Incidentally, what the French captain did when Zico missed the penalty was tender and graceful and brought repute to the game - Platini gave a comforting touch to Zico. One rarely sees such grace on the field.
Roberto Baggio made a huge contribution in Italy’s being in the final in the 1994 World Cup. The match was rather uninteresting, and Brazil was clearly the better team. The match ended goalless and went into penalty shoot out. Baggio’s took the last penalty and shot over the bar and Brazil won the World Cup after twenty four long years.
Baggio, Messi and Ronaldo had contributed greatly to their teams’ going that far in the relevant tournaments. And each had the mortification to see his effort go waste as he failed to score from the spot when it mattered most. After their loss to Bayern Munich, Casilas, the goal keeper-captain of Real Madrid, consoled his team, saying “Penalties are all a lottery.”
Scoring a penalty goal and stopping a penalty kick call for high level skills, practice, mind game tactics and imagination, at least at the highest level of football.   But often a penalty goal is less valued than a “pure goal”, a field goal. If a player scores a creditable number of goals in a tournament, both the connoisseur and the debunker ask the same question as to how many of those goals are from the spot - it is like asking, in the case of a cricketer who has scored, say, twelve thousand runs in Test cricket, how many of these have been scored against the minnows. One gets no credit for scoring from the penalty spot, and gets all the discredit for failure to score. Missing a penalty is news, hitting the net from the spot is not. As for the goal keeper, he is hardly ever blamed if the ball goes in, but his heroic effort in stopping the ball is almost always attributed to his being lucky, so he gets at most a faint word of praise. Does anyone remember Bats who stopped Zico’s shot?  Robben will be remembered for his failure but Cech will be forgotten although he was the cause of it. And to think as a boy Camus played football as the goalkeeper. Thanks to his grandmother!

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