SWC: Shootouts overdue
Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – You have to go back 24 years, to the 1986 tournament, for the last time there were no penalty shootouts in the World Cup Round of 16.
With just two of the eight games in the first knockout phase left in 2010, the white-knuckle ride has been skirted thus far … could Tuesday’s matches between Paraguay and Japan at Loftus and Spain and Portugal in Cape Town restore more “traditional” service?
The especially keenly-awaited night-time Iberian derby is almost too tight to call – it pits the European champions, ranked second in the world, against the side just one spot below them – so the game being decided on that method can hardly be ruled out.
But the other six matches have staved off the supreme test of nerve, which some enthusiasts get a masochistic satisfaction out of and others despise as a determinant after 120 minutes of deadlocked play.
The situation is flying in the face of modern history: the last five World Cups have all featured one (but interestingly only one) shootout in the last 16.
In Germany in 2006 it was between Switzerland and the Ukraine, after a goalless two hours, with a 3-0 Ukrainian triumph on penalties after the Swiss haplessly botched all of their first three attempts and the winners only their first.
But there was a quarter-final shootout between Portugal and England, with the former bagging it 3-1 through Cristiano Ronaldo’s decider after fluffed England efforts from all of Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher.
The final was also determined by penalties as Italy trumped France 5-3 with a five-out-of-five penalties scorecard: all of Messrs Pirlo, Materazzi, De Rossi, Del Piero and Grosso found the net.
Four years earlier, in Japan/South Korea 2002, Spain were involved in successive shootouts over the round of 16 and quarterfinals: they first ousted the Republic of Ireland 3-2 (it had been 1-1 after extra time) but then lost 5-3 on penalties to the ecstatic South Korean minnows (0-0 AET) who famously reached the semis against expectation.
At France 1998, England - almost always a major-tournament shootout “choke” team in recent years - lost 4-3 on penalties in the round of 16 to arch-rivals Argentina at Saint Etienne (2-2 AET) after a crucial miss by David Batty with England’s fifth.
There were also shootouts in the quarter-finals (France ousting Italy) and semis (Brazil seeing off Holland, another team who seldom get any great pleasure out of the phenomenon).
In the United States in 1994, there were shootouts in the round of 16 (Bulgaria eliminating Mexico), a quarter-final (Sweden pipping Romania) and the final itself, where Roberto Baggio’s critical howler for Italy was one of the haunting images of the tournament as Brazil bagged the trophy via a 3-2 shootout win (it was a dour 0-0 AET).
Italy 1990 boasted shootouts in the round of 16 (one), a quarter-final and both semis, while 1986 in Mexico was the last tournament to avoid the occurrence altogether at the round-of-16 stage.
That said, there were as many as three shootouts in the quarters!
As far as 2010 is concerned, it is difficult not to believe that a penalties nail-biter is “in the post”, as they say …