Sports. Honestly. Since 2011

Cole and Ronaldo, Scapegoats Extraordinaire?

I’m not sure where you are, but around here school is letting out for the summer.  Teachers are rejoicing, parents are scared.  But as a teacher who happens to have two kids, what is it that I’m supposed to feel?

As I kicked back with a pint watching Italy take England’s midfield to school, I just had a feeling that the game was going to penalties.  Each side had several chances.  I spent a good amount of the second half trying to ascertain whether Italy’s attack lacked finish, or whether England’s defending was really that good?  As the game rolled along, and we got into extra time, I began piecing together who I would select to shoot for me if I was England’s manager.

England Manager Roy Hodgson was faced with choosing the five players he felt could take the best penalties, as Italy and England completed 120 minutes without a goal. Expectedly, he chose Gerrard, Rooney, and Young.  Unexpectedly, at least for me, he went with defensive stand-out, Ashley Cole.  Cole has done fairly well with taking penalties, most notably during Chelsea’s Champions League run.  That said, in almost 100 caps for England he has a staggering “zero” goals for the Three Lions.  100 games.  0 goals.  And when the team needed someone who could net a ball with ease from a few feet away (okay, more than a few) they opted with they guy who has never touched the back of the net in international football.

The result, as you have seen 1000 times thanks to the good folks at Sky, BBC, ESPN, or virtually any other sports news channel, was Ashley Cole taking a horrendous penalty.  Not only did he get little behind the ball, but it was directed in the most convenient of places for a keeper – right into his padded gloves.

I can sometimes buy the argument that you want experienced players taking lead when the game is on the line.  I also concede that taking a penalty is not always about how hard you hit it – a lot goes into reading the keeper, being self-confident in one’s own abilities, making a decision and of course executing the kick.  That said, I just can’t see how you would not want a forward instead of a defender taking that shot.

Cristiano Rinaldo found himself in a similar situation on Wednesday as Portugal fought hard against Spain for 120 minutes.  With Spain and Portugal exchanging misses in the first round of penalties, they followed up with a goal each before Portugal missed a second.  With Spain up 3-2, with only one shot remaining, Cesc Fabregas had the chance to seal Spain’s spot in the finals with a goal, which he neatly bounced off the post into the net.  One glaring omission from penalties was the arguably the greatest goalscorer on the planet, who did not get a chance to shoot!

Ronaldo was selected to shoot fifth, as Portugal figured it would come down to final shots.  Fortunately for Spain they didn’t get to take their fifth shot as Spain put it out of reach as they went up by two with only Ronaldo’s shot remaining.

So, we have two players, each taking a lot of blame in the media.  I think the blame however, should be directed toward the team’s managers.  Roy Hodgson should not have had a defender with such little goal scoring ability (though he had a great tournament defensively) taking the fourth, and very meaningful, shot.

Paulo Bento, Portugal’s manager, should have had Ronaldo taking a shot earlier.  It is a given that a team’s best player must have the opportunity to shoot, and putting him fifth was a bit of a gamble that certainly didn’t work out for them.  Seeing his expression as Fabregas netted the final blow to Portugal’s chances said all we need to know – “Oops” (or something like that).

Even though I don’t think either player can be responsible for their team’s demise, they certainly did factor into the outcome.  Cole took a horrible shot, but it was Roy Hodgson that needs to answer for that, not Cole.  And as painful as it is to say, Bento should have made Ronaldo shoot earlier.

…until tomorrow, lads.


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