As the Euro 2016 tournament has progressed, there has been a real trend for extra-time and the dreaded penalties. Some star players have excelled; others have flopped ahead of a goalkeeper stare-down when forced to take a shot. Teams fear leaving the campaign in an honest 90-minute fashion, so they get themselves into a stalemate situation and seemingly don’t want the experience to end. It then plunges coach and squad into a penalty-taking scenario.
Euro 2016 Extra-Time: A Penchant for Penalties
In the Round of 16, the opening match saw Switzerland and Poland battle it out and enter the first instance of penalty shootouts. The only thing stopping the Swiss soar through to the quarter-finals was Granit Xhaka. His failed shot caused his team to pack their bags and head home. There hasn’t been a shortage of random penalties during the regular matches, either.
Poland were obviously gluttons for punishment; it went to penalties in their meeting with Portugal, headed up by swift-footed talisman, Cristiano Ronaldo. Netting all five, the Portuguese progressed ahead of Robert Lewandowski’s boys. Albeit unfairly, based on their skill and tenacity, Poland were sent hurtling out of the competition. Given that Ronaldo has been given scarce chances to actually find the goal, it is hardly surprising that Portugal were better equipped to get ahead through no real merit of their own.
Germany vs. Italy round-up
Another nail-biting fixture saw Germany and Italy go toe-to-toe in an epic European dual. It’s a story we’ve heard many a time before; so is the result. Germany emerged victorious on penalties, but neither team could grapple with a victory after the standard five chances. An apocalyptically horrendous tally of nine shots for both squads eventually left veteran Italian goalkeeper, Gianluigi Buffon, in tears. It was fresh-faced German international, Jonas Hector, who clinched the deal in heroic form. Germany are now to enter the semi-finals, against either France or Iceland.
It should never have reached the penalty stages, though. Bastian Schweinsteiger was denied a goal early on in the match. In the 65th minute, an organic opportunity arose for Mesut Özil, who stole a lone goal for the Germans. It was a fantastic shot, with a little stealth involved, but it wasn’t enough to finish the game. Jérôme Boateng’s theatrical defending earned him a hand-ball, causing Italy to step up to Manuel Neuer and slot home a penalty. Pardon the pun, but this is what got the ball rolling…
Things were tense for the rest of the game, and it was evident that the men on the field were so evenly matched. The only nuisance was the persistent stopping of the referee to negotiate fouls. A very disjointed set of events probably didn’t help the rhythm of proceedings.
The real shock of all was that, during the shootout, Thomas Müller (who hasn’t netted in the entire tournament), Schweinsteiger and Özil all missed. It was the combined efforts of Toni Kroos, Julian Draxler, Mats Hummels, Joshua Kimmich, Boateng and, the real man of the hour, Hector, kept the dream alive for the current world champions.
But why penalties?
It is most likely the danger of plummeting out of a tournament that makes teams so content to keep playing until the end of extra-time. Rampaging up to the opposing net has its drawbacks; what about a counter-attack? Will the defence be ready, if needs dictate? What if the goals scored aren’t enough to keep the opposition at bay? The questions build pressure; the pressure bubbles into insurmountable nerves, causing teams to lose the thread of their ultimate aim. However, Germany kept themselves afloat. Just. And look at Wales – despite the might and fire of Belgium, the Welsh were able to skip through to the semi-finals, no penalties needed.