Alger: Penalty kicks hit the post

It was a boring game that concluded with a made for TV finish.

After 90 scoreless minutes and a round of flashless extra-time, the Euro 2012 semifinal match between Spain and Portugal was to be decided in a penalty-kick shootout. After more than 100 minutes of balls flying everywhere except for inside the goal posts, the viewers would finally be subject to some action.

The ensuing shootout was sit-on-the-end-of-your-seat exciting and the final goal by Cesc Fabregas to give Spain a 4-2 shootout win and a trip to the finals is sure to be on loop on SportsCenter.

Too bad it’s a terrible way for a game to be decided.

The shootout has produced some of the most memorable memories for U.S. soccer fans, like the 1999 Women’s World Cup clinching goal by the U.S.’s Brandi Chastain that led to her iconic jesersy-less celebration. But when it comes down to it, the shootout doesn’t decide the better team.

It decides which team is better at penalty kicks.

Sure, the argument for the shootout is that penalty kicks are part of the game and each team should be prepared and talented in that aspect. But when it comes down to deciding which team is better, it’s a faulty method. It turns the match into an individual matchup between kicker and goalie. While exciting, the shootout for the most part can come down to one thing: Luck. There is a skill into defending a penalty kick, but goalies have a split second to commit to one-side or the other. A poorly struck ball can turn into a PK goal just because the goalie committed to the wrong side. On the other side, one ball off the crossbar — such as the one off of Portugal’s Bruno Alves’s foot — can send another team onto the next round.

I believe the same problem exists in the National Hockey League. Ever since the 2004 lockout, the NHL has solved its post-overtime ties with the shootout. As someone who has played the sport, I can tell you that this isn’t an effective way of deciding the better team. Many teams have players that aren’t effective during the game but are considered shootout specialists. It’s a frustrating way to lose when a game is decided by someone who may just be a little more fancy with the puck or ball. It would be like having a basketball game be decided by a slam dunk competition.

The biggest draw to the shootout is to see the biggest stars in the world take on the goalie one-on-one, but even that backfired Wednesday. Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, widely considered to be one of the best players in the world, didn’t even get to attempt a kick. He was slated as Portugal’s fifth kicker, but the shooutout didn’t get that far.

“I feel sad,” Ronaldo told reporters after the match. “Losing a semifinal in a penalty shootout is always painful, but it is a lottery, the luckier team wins.”

To be fair to the NHL, they understand the need to have meaningful games decided by the actual game, not the side show. While the shootout exists during the regular season, when the playoffs arrive the league does away with it in favor of sudden-death overtime.

I understand that a soccer match with no end-all procedure could last for hours or possibly days, but on the World’s largest stage with a berth to one of the biggest tournament’s championship game on the line, the shootout has just got to go.

There is nothing more exciting in sports than playoff overtimes. Even though it may take more time for that one goal to be scored, in the end it’s more valuable than the handfuls scored in the shootout.

It may not have the made-for -ESPN format that the shootout does, but a true overtime is just as exciting and produces the best possible outcome: The better team that day wins.


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