Penalty kicks in determining championship winner………..African Cup of Nations

By | February 10, 2015

The just concluded African Cup of Nations Championship game was decided on penalties after the game ended in a barren draw through the regular time and two 15-minutes overtimes. In this game, 17 goals were scored, all of them from the penalty spot, 12 yards from the goalkeeper. Each of the 22 players on the pitch at the end of the second overtime took a penalty kick.

In soccer, penalty kick is a free kick taken from 12 yards (around 12 meters) away from the goalkeeper. It is a direct faceoff between the goalkeeper and the penalty taker. The goalkeeper is not allowed to move from the goal line. While penalty kicks are used as a punishment for a ‘bad play’ in the goal area, they are mainly used as a tiebreaker when games end in either a barren draw or the teams score equal number of goals. Penalties are not applied in all games that end in a draw, they are mainly used in championship games where a winner has to be decided at the end of the game. They have been used to decide the outcome of soccer matches in world’s biggest stage especially in the World Cup and the Champions League when two tactically disciplined teams are unable to find the back of each other’s net.

In this article, Larry Mahoney argues that nobody seems to like penalty kicks but there is no another option of breaking a tie in a soccer game. In my opinion, a soccer match is meant to be played and won from the field not at the penalty spot. At the penalty spot, everybody has an equal chance of winning the game, regardless of whether they are the best team or not. It only takes a small mistake and the game is lost. Putting a player on the penalty spot gives them a lot of pressure and a small mistake can make them a victim and even ruin their lives. In the 2010, Asamoah Gyan was Ghana’s best player through the tournament. He was loved and cherished by soccer fans in Ghana. Then he missed the penalty kick that would have made Ghana the first African country ever to play in a World Cup semifinal. He went from being and idol to being the most hated person in Ghana within an instant. It took the intervention of the Ghanian president to calm the soccer fans in the country who were threatening to do all sort of things to the man who had been a national hero just a few days ago after scoring the winning goal against US that booked Ghana a place in the World Cup quarter finals.

The African Cup of Nations final was not very exciting over its regular time. Both teams were not able to establish a flow through the game and they struggled to consistently put together a good attacking move or something exciting. This can be attributed to both teams seemingly being more defensive minded or the pressure that comes with the enormity of the game. However, the penalty kicks turned out to the most entertaining part of the match. From Ivory Coast missing its first two to their goal keeper seemingly collapsing on noticing that he was the one to take the deciding penalty and receiving a yellow card just before kicking the winning shot. The whole shootout was entertaining as evident from the video below, but I still think penalty kicks should not be used to decide a championship game.

4 thoughts on “Penalty kicks in determining championship winner………..African Cup of Nations

  1. Connor Shannahan

    This game was summed up fantastically by one of the beIN sports comentators. Just before the end of extra time he said something along the lines of “No matter what happens next, these last 117 minutes will most certainly be forgotten”. He was quite simply right. The game was forgotten and everyone was talking about the penalty kicks. Its one of the most entertaining portions of a soccer match, but its innately unfair. After playing 120 minutes of back and forth soccer, the game is finally decided by essentially a coin flip with some mind games. Its a broken system and in my opinion needs to go.

    Other methods have been proposed in the past as replacements for penalty kicks. My personal favorite is moving the penalties to the start of extra time. The two teams would have a penalty shootout before playing extra time, and then if extra time ended in a tie, the winner of the penalties would win the game. This method has so many benefits. Often extra time periods are characterized by tired slow uninspired play. This method would give the team that lost the penalty much more incentive to try hard in extra time resulting in a more exciting extra time while keeping the entertainment value of a shootout. This strategy will also put less blame on players for missing a penalty keeping them safer. I agree that the standard penalty shootout is likely too ingrained to be changed but this would be a great alternative.

  2. Danielle Lazarus

    It’s interesting to think about the entertainment value of penalty kicks. Although I do agree with both Justin and Deemer, we could also look further beyond the “history” and “tradition” of penalty kicks in soccer and also at how they relate to the way soccer is packaged and sold. Often, soccer is criticized (mostly by casual viewers) as being relatively slow, too spread-out, without enough goals, which are hands down the most exciting parts of the game. So, when you have penalty kicks–5+ of this “most exciting part” of the game in a row–isn’t that a great, entertaining draw for fans, especially to incentivize those watching a game (like the African Cup of Nations final) to stay on until the end ? And by fans, I mean viewers, and by viewers, I mean potential dollar signs for the people/corporations who are trying to sell soccer games? Maybe I’m being extremely cynical, but just look at what happened at the African Cup finals–the BACKUP GOALKEEPER wins the game for Ivory Coast. How great (and entertaining) of a story is that?? Even Muthoka admits that the teams “struggled to consistently put together a good attacking move or something exciting” during the game, and that “the whole shootout was entertaining”. Maybe shootouts aren’t the best ways to decide championship games, but as long as they’re this entertaining, they’re not going anywhere anytime soon.

  3. Deemer Class IV

    Penalty kicks have been apart of the rules for some time now. It is an aspect of the game that should be practiced just like anything else. The margin of error is slim, yes, but that high pressure and excitement is why we are attracted to sports. The situation with the Ghana player is unfortunate and more so exemplifies the inability of the soccer fans to really understand sport and the challenges that go along with it. That is a separate issue in itself. I do see what you are saying about not having it decide a championship game, but it has been apart of the game for some time now and in my opinion should still be viewed as a skillful aspect rather than a potentially unequal ending.

  4. Justin Fu

    It’s interesting that you describe penalty kicks as punishment for a “bad play” in the penalty area because in a sense a penalty shootout is punishment for players who fail to win a game during regulation and extra time periods. While we argue against penalty kicks as an individualistic way to end a team game, we also proclaim their value for excitement. Even though all 22 players on the pitch in the African Cup Final match took a penalty kicks, the rules place the greatest importance of the penalty kick on only the first 5 players who take a penalty. Rather than judge a team based on all 11 players or even the entire roster, the rules reward individual achievements at the spot. However, while we can argue against the philosophy of a penalty kick, the reality is that we cannot offer a superior method to end matches that are tied. Furthermore, with such a historical institution as the penalty kick, it is unlikely that the convention will be overturned. At the end of the match, the penalty kick may not reward skill or may end in a result that misrepresents the strength of two competing teams, but nevertheless, it represents the aspect of luck in soccer that even the most skilled and prepared teams can fall to the vagaries of a penalty kick shootout loss to a lesser team. In this sense, the penalty kicks epitomize the sport.

    Great post though! Here’s a clip of a North American Soccer League Shootout (Dribble Up Style):


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