Last Saturday the Mexican football final took place, ending in a draw between Santos and Toluca. Which meant penalties. La Liguilla has been decided by a couple of incredible penalty shoot outs since I’ve been watching the game here. Including one between Toluca and Cruz Azul a couple of tournaments ago, which redefined the meaning of the word ‘tension’.
Penalty kicks are an evil way to lose a cup final, or go out of a tournament. They’re not fair, but then there is no entirely fair way of settling these ties in my opinion. Except perhaps for the final. Play on till someone scores a winner. But penalties, as exciting as they are to the neutral, are heart attack provokers for the participants.
Especially for fans of England. It wasn’t always like this for us. I’ve lived through six World Cups in which England have qualified for the final tournament. By 1990 I thought it was time we had a bit of luck go our way. In 1982 we departed the tournament undefeated, even on penalties! A weird three group system for the second round saw us draw 0-0 against both Spain and Germany. Germany beat Spain. England went home.
In 1986 we watched helplessly as Maradona deliberately bundled the ball into the net with his hand. He might have scored an awesome second goal, but he’ll never be forgiven! And so in 1990, having watched the three Lions outplay Holland, defeat Belgium with a last gasp cracker, and come from behind against Cameroon, I was utterly convinced we’d beat Germany and book our place in the final when the final whistle blew and penalties beckoned. Utterly convinced. There’s no bigger heart break than to lose a shoot out when you are so convinced that victory will be yours.
Of course, it has become routine for us since then. Six years later we were done in the Euro 96 semi final, by Germany again, on penalties. Argentina dispatched us from the World Cup the same way in 1998 at the quarter final stage. In 2004 we left the Euros at the hand of Portugal and more penalty misery. And Portugal again put one over on us in 2006, at the World Cup in Germany, knocking us out in the Quarters. On penalties. Misery, misery, misery.
And so I am going to make a bold World cup prediction, nice and early! England are going to win the World Cup. Beating Spain in the final. On penalties. It’s an easy prediction to make really. Firstly….as if I’d predict England to finish anything less than winners?!?!? Spain are the strongest team by far in this World Cup, so it’s not hard to see them getting to the final. Although, because they are so good, I can see their opponents in the knock out stages in particular, trying simply to contain them, rather than beat them. And then hope for the best from the spot.
It also has to be said, Spain are as equally useless, historically, as England at penalties. In fact the only penalty shoot out that England have ever won, was at the Euro 96 tournament against Spain. In July, at the final, if my prediction does unfold, I can only hope that the pressure of being favourites will get to the Spanish. And that the stigma of three penalty kick knockouts in the last four World Cups will have made the English players sick of losing and motivated into shooting straight.
At the beginning of the post I mentioned the penalty shoot out for the Mexican title between santos and Toluca. The first leg of the final had finished 2-2. The second leg 0-0. There are no away goals in the final. I’ll finish this post with a video of the ensuing penalty shoot out. It’s a cracker.