World football is in qualification mode for South Africa 2010. Excitement builds on every continent as the 32 nations for the World Cup are determined.
The world's greatest sporting event, after four years of wait and a two-year qualification process, could culminate in...
A penalty kick shootout.
Imagine the Super Bowl being decided by a series of field goal attempts by the kickers.
Or the NBA Finals being decided by a free-throw contest.
Or the World Series being decided by a home-run derby.
In every sport, when an elimination game goes to overtime, the drama should build to a crescendo. Each moment the game continues, the tension should build as a winner is sought.
In soccer's World Cup, the exact opposite happens. The most patient and most team-oriented game in the world, resorts to a let's-get-this-over-with, one-on-one contest of skill, nerves and luck.
The penalty kick shootout less to do with the actual game of soccer than common sense has to do with politics. It's an embarrassment for the sport when its world championship is determined in such manner.
Theoretically, every penalty kick should be made. All advantages lie with the PK taker; the goalkeeper has no realistic hope. The keeper must guess, dive early to one side to cover the post; the kick taker has at least 50 percent of the goal available, regardless. The only missed penalties are mistakes.
Only one time has the PK shootout added to the drama of a World Cup match—the first one. In the Espana '82 semifinals, West Germany rallied from a 3-1 deficit in extra time, and rallied in the shootout to eliminate France.
It was drama of the most captivating order. It was new and exciting.
But in Mexico '86, with teams trying to cope with the high altitudes, the shootout became mundane. Seemingly every elimination match went to penalty kicks.
Since then, two Finals have been decided by PKs—Brazil-Italy in '94, and Italy-France in '06. Each shooter bore the weight of his nation's hopes on his shoulders in the most pressure-intense crucible imaginable. If the shooter succeeded, he only did what he was supposed to do; if he failed, he would carry a proverbial goat collar for the rest of his life.
FIFA owes the world—and its sport—a better ending.
Granted, the game can't continue indefinitely like other sports. After 120 minutes with limited substitutions, the game would break down into a series of long kicks with no skilled attacking. Nobody wants a world championship decided by a Red-Rover-style game from P.E. class.
In today's TV-driven world, coming back days later and replaying the match is not an option.
Somehow, a winner must be determined. Yet, the ultimate team game needs to be decided by team play, not a series of one-on-one confrontations.
The corner kick showdown.
The corner kick is, inherently, the most exciting and defensively-dangerous aspect of any match. It's not a death knell for the defense, but it greatly increases the scoring chances for the attackers. It is American football's equivalent of being in the "red zone."
Using the linesmen to establish the old NASL 35-yard line, the defense must clear the ball past that point. If the defense knocks the ball over the touchline or its own goalline, the attacking team maintains possessions as in normal play.
The offensive possession does not end until a goal is scored, or the defense clears the ball past the 35-yard line.
Each nation would get three corner kick possessions, with the option to choose from which side it would take each starting kick. If the game remains tied, another round is added until the tie is broken.
In a corner kick showdown, all 11 players for each side must perform their duties to be successful. Individual skill and team precision are highlighted. Any and all could be heroes; a mistake could be unimportant, or it could be fatal. Wild celebrations would ensue goals, unlike they do in the PK shootout.
Drama would build with each second. A great match would become an all-time match. Even an uneventful match, to that point, would become must-see drama that would captivate the world—inside and outside the sport of futbol.
And, ultimately, the ultimate team game would have its ultimate championship determined by team play—to ultimate, bitter end.
It's time for FIFA to step up to the spot, protect and enhance the world's grandest sporting event, and bury the PK shootout in the back of the net.