If you're a "serious" soccer fan who supports a team that usually gets past the first round, the words "penalty kick shootout" will probably send shivers down your spine.
No doubt, the World Cup is full of exciting and memorable moments, but there is none quite as painfully exhilarating as the penalty shootout. Players practice and prepare for them mentally, all the while hoping "it'll never come to that;” fans recall past victories or defeats, in an attempt to resolve whether the PK shootout "god" has historically smiled on their particular nation.
Almost four years ago now, close to this time of year, I was sinking into the most terrible depression. Argentina had just lost to Germany in the quarterfinals, (thanks to Jens Lehman's "paper-in-the-sock technique") and I had decided that the next 4 years of my life would be miserable. PK shootouts were to blame for my misery, and thus I hated them and wished they were dead.
It seemed to me that penalty kicks had a way of rewarding the undeserving, and had nothing to do with the game; they were all about luck, and nothing else.
If you've ever been on the losing side of a PK shootout, you'll know how I felt.
But once I came to grips and made peace with myself and destiny, I concluded that penalty kicks were a necessary evil and, additionally, they did add an element of excitement and flare to the World Cup.
So, in memory of many a shootout-inspired post-World Cup depression, I thought I'd mention some of the most memorable shootouts, sources of immense relief for some, and profound grief for others.
And in case you're a bit superstitious: historically Germany is the side you don't want to face in the shootout; they've won 4 of 4. England, on the other hand, have lost all 3 of theirs, Italy have won 1 of 4, Brazil 2 of 3, Argentina 3 of 4 and Spain 1 of 3.
This was the first penalty shootout ever to take place in a World Cup. The elegant and talented French side (which included Michel Platini) faced an unpopular and lackluster, yet effective German team.
The match was tremendously intense, and the Germans went ahead with a goal by Pierre Littbarski, only to be equalized on a PK taken by Platini. About 20 minutes into the second half, German goalkeeper Toni Schumacher literally K.O.'d Patrick Battiston, sending him to the hospital with a severe concussion. Oddly enough, the referee didn't even call a foul on Schumacher.
The game wore on into extra time, when the French finally managed to break the deadlock, scoring twice to go ahead 3-1. Victory seemed all but certain. But the Germans hit back twice and, against all odds, tied the match at 3-3.
The rest is history, as Germany won the shootout 5-4 and went on to a final that they would lose to Italy.
France were the reigning European Champions, and Brazil had a brilliantly talented squad, with historical names such as: Junior, Zico, Sócrates, Falcao, Branco and Careca. These were undoubtedly two of the most outstanding teams of the tournament.
The game was tied at 1-1 after an entertaining 90 minutes, with goals by Zico (PK) for the Brazilians, and Platini for the French. Even the extra times were not enough to break the draw, and the game went on to penalties.
Surprisingly enough, two of the most outstanding players on the field, Zico and Platini, missed their shots. It was finally Luis Fernandez who scored the decisive shot for France, after a missed kick by Brazilian Julio Cesar.
The Germans, however, would eliminate the French in the next round.
The home side Italy faced Argentina, who had just scraped into the semifinals after a PK shootout victory over Yugoslavia. The match was played in the city of Naples, the adopted hometown of Diego Maradona.
The match wasn't much of a beauty to behold. Argentina had become quite unpopular in this tournament, for "dirtying" up matches with their foul play, theatrics, and constant hounding of the referee. Schillachi had put the Italians ahead, but Caniggia scored an equalizer, and the game ended a 1-1 draw.
Once again, Argentina relied on their "talisman" goalkeeper Goycochea, and he didn't let them down; he stopped shots from Roberto Donadoni and Aldo Serena. Maradona, who had missed a penalty against Yugoslavia, would score the decisive one.
However, Argentina would go on to lose that final to Germany, on an 85th minute Brehme penalty kick.
England, who were seeking to make it to the World Cup final for their second time ever, fielded a fantastic team in this Cup, with a brilliant Paul Gascoigne.
Germany, the eventual winners, also had a powerful squad, combining the classic German shrewdness with several brilliant players, such as Kohler, Matthaus and Klinsmann. Additionally, the legendary Franz Beckenbauer coached them.
The play was evenly matched throughout, and there were equal opportunities for either side. Germany scored first off a deflected free kick, and Gary Lineker later equalized for England. Thus, the game was forced into extra time.
It was during the second half of extra time that the tournament had one of its most memorable moments: Gascoigne was booked and broke down uncontrollably into tears; the yellow card meant that, should England make it through to the final, Gazza would not be able to play.
Both extra time periods ended, and the score was still 1-1. The Germans proceeded to give a lesson on perfect penalty kick execution, while Englishmen Pearce and Waddle both missed their shots, to give Germany the victory.
After a 24-year absence, the Brazilians had finally returned to their old stomping grounds: the World Cup final. They faced a nation who were themselves no newcomers to World Cup finals: three-time world champions, Italy.
Oddly enough, given Brazil's past, this team was out of character, shrewd and gritty, a far cry from the "jogo bonito" of former Brazilian sides (despite the likes of Romario and Bebeto). But it seemed to be working out just fine for them; they had made it to the final, where they were to face an equally shrewd opponent.
For 90 minutes and two extra periods, both sides out-cautioned and out-speculated each other, until things finally came to a tortuously stale 0-0 finish. So, for the first time ever, the World Cup final would be decided on penalty kicks.
And in the end it would all come down to the feet of one of the most outstanding players of the tournament: Roberto Baggio. He would be the one to throw the decisive kick way over the cross-bar, sealing the triumph for Brazil; their fourth World Cup success.
England and Argentina have been protagonists in some of the most dramatic matches in World Cup history, and this one was no exception.
England had taken control of things all throughout much of the first half, with a young Michael Owen who seemed quite unstoppable. But with intelligence and personality, Argentina had managed to maneuver their way into a 2-2 draw before half time.
However, the balance of things changed drastically at the start of the second half, when Beckham got into a tangle with Diego Simeone, and was foolishly sent off, leaving his team with 10 men.
Although Argentina sought to score all throughout the second half, they were never able to penetrate the well-organized English defense. England, on the other hand, waited patiently for a chance to score on a breakaway or a set piece.
But finally the match would end 2-2, and Argentine goalkeeper Carlos Roa would steal the night (much like his predecessor Goycochea), blocking the decisive shot by Englishman David Batty and giving Argentina the victory.
On this occasion, host nation and eventual World Cup winners France faced the ever-present azurri, who despite being outplayed throughout most of the match had managed to hold France to a 0-0 draw.
With the help of a brilliant Zidane, France had pieced together one attack after another to no avail; the Italians were as defensively solid as ever. But the PK's did not treat them kindly.
After having missed one penalty each (Lizarazu for France and Albertini for Italy), the series went down to the wire. Di Biagio was responsible for taking the fateful 5th penalty; he shot it off the crossbar and sent France into the Semifinals.
For all true lovers of the beautiful game, a match between these two countries is not to be missed. Brazil and the Netherlands have historically been known for having skillful and talented teams; and these were not exceptions.
Ronaldo's goal near the end of the first half had given Brazil the lead, and they seemed set to win despite Dutch pressure throughout the second half. But three minutes before the end, the Dutch finally broke through with a Patrick Kluivert header off a Ronald De Boer cross.
Tied at 1-1, the shootout began. Brazil executed each of their kicks perfectly, but Phillip Cocu and Ronald De Boer misfired for the Dutch.
Brazil were through, and yet another outstanding Dutch side had failed to go the distance.
Germany and Argentina have a fair amount of history between them at World Cups, and this encounter promised to be an exciting one as well. The Germans had the hometown advantage, but Argentina had put together some excellent performances in the earlier rounds.
It turned out to be a very nervy and physical match. Argentina controlled much of the ball possession throughout the first half, but were unable to make much use of it.
In the first five minutes of the second half, Roberto Ayala managed to fire in a header off a Román Riquelme corner kick, to put Argentina ahead.
As the minutes went by, Argentina began to feel as if they would finally reach the semifinals again after 16 years of failed attempts; but soon things began to go wrong.
Starting goalkeeper Roberto Abbondanzieri was injured and replaced in the 72nd minute. Shortly thereafter Argentine manager Nestor Pekerman substituted playmaker Riquelme with holding midfielder Cambiasso, in a speculative move intended to help Argentina hang on to the 1-0 lead. But in the 80th minute, Miroslav Klose scored the equalizer.
Without Riquelme on the field, the Argentines struggled at creating possibilities. Thus, after two periods of extra time, the Germans seemed as if they were in better shape, both mentally and physically.
In the shootout, Lehman made two excellent saves with the assistance of a little piece of paper he pulled from his sock with PK statistics on the Argentine players. Germany defeated Argentina and went on to face Italy in the Semifinals.
In what promised to be a close contest between two European powers, England went into this match with a great deal of expectation that they'd make it through to the Semifinals.
The first half offered very little, as both sides played quite cautiously. But at the start of the second, things began to sour for the English: David Beckham suffered an ankle injury after just 5 minutes of play and had to be subbed.
Things only got worse as Wayne Rooney was sent off on the 62nd minute for stamping Ricardo Carvalho in the groin.
Yet somehow England seemed to blossom under these difficult circumstances, and they played the remainder of the match valiantly, even coming close to scoring on several occasions. Sadly, it wasn't enough, and England were taken to the penalty kick roulette once again.
In what was truly a dramatic series, the goalkeeping abilities of Ricardo made all the difference. He stopped three penalties and Portugal went on to win the series 4-2.
In Germany 2006, France seemed truly powerful, as they steamrolled their way into the final at the expense of Spain, Brazil, and Portugal. With a slew of veteran players (some of the same ones who had won it in 1998), France combined experience with skill, and seemed like the favorites to win it all.
Italy, on the other hand, had not been truly tested until their semifinal match against Germany. Furthermore, the months prior to the World Cup had seen Italian football embroiled in a corruption scandal, which seemed likely to diminish their chances at World Cup success.
But the Italians, known for building success around solid defenses and being lethal when given a chance, are never to be counted out.
It was a more open final than many had expected, and both teams attacked with gusto. The French went ahead with a penalty kick taken by Zidane, after a foul on Florent Malouda. But Italy got back just 12 minutes later with a header by Marco Materazzi.
As regulation time came to an end, France had started to take control of things and it seemed as if the decisive goal would come any time. But with only 10 minutes left on extra time, the outstanding Zinedine Zidane shocked the world by head-butting Marco Materazzi in the chest, and with so much at stake, he was sent off in what was his farewell from les bleus.
Italy had never won a penalty shootout at a World Cup in three attempts, but this time they would finally get things right, scoring all five of their attempts, and winning it thanks to a missed shot by Trezeguet.