Here’s a piece I wrote almost 18 years ago today on July 4, 1998 right after my beloved Italy was eliminated from the 1998 World Cup on a penalty shoot-out just as they were yesterday in the EuroCup by Germany.
I have always hated ending matches with PKs (Penalty Kicks) and not just because my team is horrible at it. Just look what it has done to today’s greatest player Messi whose number one ranked team Argentina has lost the last two Copa America championships in penalty shoot-outs to Chile. Many will argue that they should’ve found a way to score during the match to avoid the PK but that is besides the point. I firmly believe that FIFA (Federation of International Football Association) should get rid of the penalty shoot-out rule once and for all and institute the Golden Goal format which means the first team to score a goal in extra time wins the match. Not only is the penalty Shoot-out based purely on luck, but the format of continuing the match after a team scores in extra time is also cruel and unfair. Most soccer/football fans HATE the PK whether they win or lose. I’m speaking from experience as my Italy finally won the World Cup in 2006 in a penalty Shoot-out with none other than France (who inspired me to write the following article entitled “The World Cup of Crap”). Still, it did not change my mind or opinion about the PK! I still despise it with a passion.
By the way, Italy fell back into losing form right after the 2006 PK victory by losing to Spain in PK in the 2008 EuroCup quarter-final after a 0-0 draw. We lost again to Spain in PK in 2013 Confederations Cup 7-6 and yesterday in the Quarter-finals of EuroCup 2016 to Germany. Some things never change.
Here’s an important statistic that shows the damage the PK has done to the sport since it’s implementation in 1978 almost 40 years ago. Notice the increase in the number of matches in knockout rounds decided on this coin flip of a method. Far too many great teams have been eliminated by this masochistic method.
Here’s the breakdown of Italy’s subpar performances in PKs through the years. They aren’t even the worst at it as England and the Netherlands seem to have done even worse than them. Still, too many great teams and their fans have been crushed by this idiotic and cruel method of deciding winners.
Here’s a collection of mostly painful performances by Italy in penalty Shoot-outs through the years. It’s almost like a smut film for me if not for the few bright spots like the 2006 World Cup final!
Here’s the article I wrote in 1998 about the horror of the penalty shoot-out and why it must go.
The World Cup of Crap
The title that you just read might seem a tad offensive or a bit exaggerated, but if you read on you just might agree with my opinion of the World Cup of soccer. What you should know first is that this is not just a review or critique of the most recent World Cup (France 1998), nor of soccer as a sport, but mostly one man’s desperate plea for justice and fair play.
In a nutshell, the thing that totally destroys the integrity and enjoyment of the sport is the unbelievably unfair and idiotic shootout! The whole idea of deciding a match on penalty kicks is near insanity and just plain cruel, not just for the fans, but especially for the players. Point blank, the shootout sucks. It is the lamest method to decide a winner in all of sports.
Think about this for a moment. After four long years of grueling qualification matches and preparation, world class soccer players battle it out for over 90 minutes, through blood and sweat, and then through 30 minutes of overtime. What does it come down to after all this? A lousy coin flip! That’s what the shootout is in the end—a heads or tails flip of the coin. Five players take turns blasting a ball several feet away from a goalie who cannot legally make a move until the ball is struck! It is not a question of skill, but more of luck.
Yes, FIFA (The governing body of professional soccer) did make one brilliant rule change prior to this World Cup concerning the overtime periods. They finally made O.T. sudden death, as in all other sports. After regulation time, two fifteen minute periods are played and the first team that scores a goal wins. This is a tremendous improvement over the previous format that played out the full overtime period even after a goal was scored!
While this new sudden death format is a step in the right direction, I still believe that they need to lengthen the extra time to a full 45 minutes. If no one scores during this extra time, they should play another one! Eventually, a goal will be scored! Let them finish what they started!
There are many strong arguments over the reasons why soccer has never been and might never be a major sport in the USA. I believe that the main reasons include the usual complaints about lack of scoring, far too many Academy Award winning performances by players faking injuries in order to draw penalties. But most of all it has something to do with soccer’s many stupid and unfair rules!
One of these rules is the rather severe punishment of ejection from the game upon receiving a second yellow card. It is instant ejection when a player receives a red card, which is supposed to be given only to blatant fouls that threaten the health of a player. The sad truth about these cards is that the rules have been changed to increase the number of players who get ejected! While it is a great move to cut down on dangerous play (mostly tackling from behind) with the new red card rule, it is too costly to banish players after two minor infractions (Yellow cards). But the most outrageous rule of all has to be the shootout. Quite frankly, Americans just don’t seem to like this concept. It just seems so strange and so unfair.
Just look at our favorite sports and see how they determine their victors and champions when a game ends in a tie after regulation. Here is a list of the top four sports and their post-season rules. I’ve also included what I believe FIFA would have done in handling overtime with these sports.
|League||Major League Baseball|
|Regulation Time||9 Innings with 3 outs a side|
|Overtime||An extra inning is played with each team getting a turn to bat until one team scores more runs than the other.|
|FIFA’s Idea of OT||Each team faces 5 pitches and whoever gets the most hits or balls wins.|
|League||National Football League|
|Regulation Time||4 Quarters of 15 minutes|
|Overtime||An extra quarter of 15 minutes is played. The first team that scores a point, wins. They continue playing until someone scores.|
|FIFA’s Idea of OT||Each team gets 5 field goal attempts, whoever makes the most kicks wins. If there’s a tie after 5 kicks, they continue until one team scores and the other misses.|
|League||National Hockey League|
|Regulation Time||3 Periods of 20 minutes|
|Overtime||An extra 20 minute period is player. The first team that scores a goals wins. They continue playing until someone scores.|
|FIFA’s Idea of OT||Each team gets 5 shots on goal, whoever makes the most goals wins. If there’s a tie after 5 shots, they continue until one team scores and the other misses.|
|League||National Basketball League|
|Regulation Time||4 Quarters of 12 minutes|
|Overtime||An extra Five minute quarter is played. Whoever scores the most points in this period wins. They continue playing until someone scores.|
|FIFA’s Idea of OT||Each team gets 5 free throws at the basket. Whoever scores the most, wins. If there’s a tie after 5 throws, they continue until one team scores and the other misses.|
Did you notice a pattern here? Each sport handles overtime in the same manner. They continue to play their game until there is a clear-cut winner. There is no major alteration or mutation of the game, such as they do in Soccer. There’s no drawing of straws when it comes to the championships of baseball, football, basketball or hockey. The seasons are too long and careers too brief to leave it to chance.
Some of you might wonder why such a seemingly trivial matter such as a rule in soccer should bother anyone as much as it has bothered me. It is a good question. I understand that it is only a game and no one is going to die, unless you play for a South American country and make a costly error in the World Cup (An Argentinean defender was shot to death after the 1994 World Cup in which he accidentally scored a goal on his own team). I know that it is only sport, but I have been an athlete most of my life and understand the importance of fair play, especially when it comes to the dream of winning a championship. These are lifelong memories for the athletes, their spouses, children, friends, relatives and all of their fans. They can either be joyful memories or painful experiences. It does not depend on the outcome as much as the level of fairness involved in the competition. No one wants their once in a lifetime opportunity to come down to pure luck. A good sport will accept defeat graciously if they feel that they were beaten fair and square. It is when you feel slighted that losing becomes a bitter pill to swallow. Without question, the World Cup of soccer has handed out far more bottles of bitter pills than any other sport in the history of competition. The Olympics are a close second, but that’s another article, another cause.
One final note: I must admit that there are other personal reasons behind my tirade against the World Cup and soccer itself. I was born in Italy, but raised in the USA. I naturally love the game of soccer and grew up in a country where the idea of justice is held dear. This explains my utter irritation and frustration with the governing bodies of soccer, who have allowed the World Cup to continue decade after decade with its shamefully unfair rules—The most grievous of all being the shootout.
The other personal reason why I detest the World Cup is because Italy, my homeland country, has suffered far more anguish than any other country in the history of the World Cup when it comes to the shootout rule. They have lost three World Cups in a row thanks to the crappy shootout rule. They were eliminated in 1990, 1994 and 1998 by penalty kicks! Three potential championship teams ripped off.
These were all world class powerful teams that no other country could beat in the game of soccer, but all of their dreams were shattered because of FIFA and their pathetic answer to deciding a winner.
My heart still breaks every time that I think about the World Cup and all the Italian teams and all the other teams that have suffered the torturous experience of the shootout. I ache not only for the players and the death of their dreams, but for their country and fans too. I know the pain all too well.
Some might think that this whole piece is based on sour grapes—that if Italy had won any of these games in the shootout that I would not be as against it as I am. This is not true because while I admit that I certainly would not be as hurt as I am had my team won, I would still be against the shootout. It is no way to resolve the four-year odyssey that countries endure to reach the World Cup. Even the fortunate winners of penalty kicks must feel a little guilty. They know deep down that their victory was more luck than skill. Everyone knows that the shootout is nothing more than a flip of the coin.
The World Cup shootout, more than anything else in sports, is a horrible injustice that I will fight as long as it persists. I am determined to kill the shootout once and for all. I will continue to write and talk about its injustice and cruelty until it is finally abolished! I will plead my case in magazines, newsletters, on the internet, through e-mail, faxes, mail, on television and radio, and any other medium that is available. You can join my cause by spreading the message and sharing this piece with others. Send it to anyone that you think would be interested in justice and fair play, even if they are not soccer fans. We need to make as many people as possible aware of this hideous nightmare. This is the only way that change can take place. Only when enough of us make enough noise can corrective actions be set in motion to resolve it. Nothing can stop an idea whose time has come and the time has come to put an end to the shootout rule in soccer.
July 4th, 1998 (Independence Day)