Oh, Those Penalty Kicks!


Euro 2012 has been so enjoyable so far that I hate to nit-pick. But…

Didn’t you have a feeling about 10 minutes into Italy vs. England on Saturday that if it wasn’t a question of watching all that gorgeous ebb-and-flow that it is supposed to be what soccer’s appeal is really all about. I mean, if it was just a question of who was going to win the game, you could have taken a nap, cut the grass, checked your email, read Elmore Leonard – and just tuned back in for the penalty kicks?

Don’t you feel that with Portugal vs. Spain on Wednesday and Germany
vs. Italy on Wednesday that it’s all going to come down to penalty
kicks? I know, I know – I’m a typical American trying to enjoy soccer.
No, actually I’m a typical American who does enjoy soccer but wish I
could enjoy it a little more.

Maybe I am — and always will be — too impatient for scoring, like
most American viewers, but I can’t help feeling that the endless
discussions of the various national temperaments and styles as expressed
on the football field are irrelevant if the game is going to some down
to scoreless or 1-1 ties with the game decided by penalty kicks.

What would the equivalent be in other team sports? Would NFL football
be satisfying if, at the end of 60 minutes of playing time, they simply
put the ball on the 10-yard line and let the teams go back and forth
until somebody failed to score? (They practically do that already with
those ridiculous college football overtimes.)

How about baseball? Instead of playing real baseball in extra
innings, you start the 10th inning with a runner at third, and the first
team that can’t get him in loses.

Basketball? How about you line up all 5 of you spread out your guys
at the 3-point shot line and have them go at it – one after the other?
Then the other teams lines up and takes it shots, most baskets win.

I guess this is an old complaint, but I don’t think it’s one you’re
going to start hearing from Americans, and I really have to wonder if
most foreigners aren’t a little frustrated with ending great matches
with penalty kicks, an exercise that requires just one simple skill from
the many we have been admiring the entire tournament. And I’m guessing
that the way the remaining four teams play defense that there’s an
excellent chance from here on in that every match, including the title
game, will be decided by penalty kicks.

Penalty kicks in and of themselves aren’t interesting – they’re
probably the dullest way to score in soccer and we only get excited
because the game is on the line, not because we care about the art of
penalty kicks.