Mike Gibbons

Mike Gibbons is an aspiring young journalist from the UK who has followed the World Cup with passion from an early age. He will share his views about the past, present and future of this event.

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Winning Goal

    Blatter is at it again. Amidst the usual hot air about players’ salaries being immoral (from a man who draws a hefty wage despite being utterly incompetent at his job) the figurehead of world football is getting all upset about penalty shoot-outs, and doesn’t want the show-piece event of global football, the World Cup Final, to be decided in this manner ever again after Italy beat France via this method in the summer.

    It doesn’t happen often, but I agree with old Sepp on this one – well, you’ve heard the one about broken clocks. Although I do like the drama of a penalty shoot-out I would rather the game be settled on the pitch, but at present there is no better alternative. Blatter has proposed the idea of a replay for the Final only, but what’s to stop two well organised defences like those of Italy and France grinding their way to another 120 minute stalemate? The other Blatter approved alternative – removing one player per team at scheduled intervals – is just awful and slightly sinister. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that we’ll be taken away from the live action for three minutes of propaganda from Coke, Nike, Adidas and McDonalds whilst the teams are allowed to ‘reorganise’. Not on my watch, and you know anyway that the coaches will just take off the forwards and leave all their defenders on the pitch. They play not to concede you see.

    The recent proposals have reignited the old debate – just how should you settle a football match that is level, particularly in knockout competitions? One ludicrous idea on a football phone-in I listened to last night was to award the game to the team that had committed the least fouls, or had the least amount of yellow cards. Pur-lease. Do you really want to see diving and feigning injury get any worse than it is now?

    I’d hate football in general to adopt that MLS system of the extended penalty where a player runs the ball in from further out to beat the goalkeeper – if you’ve never seen one believe me they are rubbish, and offer an enormous advantage to the goalkeeper. The current system of penalty shoot-outs is the best alternative. Yes it can make a villain of a player, like a Baresi or a Baggio, but it makes just as many (often unlikely) heroes, the likes of Sergio Goycochea or David O’Leary. It is a test of your nerve and skill under great pressure, and isn’t that the very essence of top-level sport?

    Whatever this forthcoming FIFA talking shop will decide, ultimately I think they should conclude that there is no fairer way to settle a match. Or is there?

    It occurred to me a while ago that we might be looking at this situation through the wrong end of the telescope. All of the proposals I have ever heard regarding this situation are based on the fact that a match can’t last for longer than 120 minutes maximum. Normal play ends, and then we need a mechanism to decide the winner. Well, if I may propose an alternative direct from the yard of every school in Britain (and I assume beyond), why don’t we play winning goal?

    For those not au fait with what ‘winning goal’ is, it usually involves one boy on one team asking a boy on another what the score is as a dinnertime draws to a close. If the response is, for example, ‘It’s two all’, both parties will decide to play winning goal. It does exactly what it says on the tin – the next goal by either side will win the game.

    I know what you’re thinking – haven’t we been here before with golden goal? Sort of, but with one fundamental difference. When playing golden goal, both sides knew that if they could make it through the scheduled half-hour without conceding they could chance their arm in a penalty shoot-out. When it was introduced for Euro 96 it was an unmitigated disaster, teams became more defensive and of the six quarter and semi finals four of them ground their way through a dull thirty minutes of extra-time to penalties. As with its errant cousin silver goal that followed it blatantly didn’t work and unsurprisingly FIFA have binned it.

    What I’m advocating is that after ninety minutes both teams refresh themselves and play on until the next goal is scored. Read that again, UNTIL the next goal is scored. They are not coming off the pitch until the game is decided, even if they are running on bloody stumps for legs. Sure, give them a drinks break every fifteen minutes if needs be, but until the ball crashes into the back of one of the nets the game will still be on a knife-edge.

    This would obviously induce a lorry-load of complaints – what if it takes them an hour to score? We’ve all seen matches where we think our team could play all day and not register a goal, is there not a danger that they might be out there until four in the morning? Personally, I don’t think so. Anyone who has ever played winning goal (and yes, yes I know schoolyard football is a world away but the principle is the same) would know that you re-double your efforts under these circumstances. Many was the time that I’d be 15-20 minutes late for lessons whilst one of our dinnertime games reached its conclusion – in fact I partly attribute that, along with my poor attention span for all things science, to my appalling grades in GCSE Chemistry, Physics and Biology.

    If the players knew that they couldn’t leave the pitch until another goal went in I’m convinced this would open the game up – they would push forward, try more elaborate ploys to open up the defence, take more shots etc. No player in his right mind would want a match to go on forever, and it would force at least one side and probably both to really go for it – fortune favours the brave, and if you have the guts to go and win it you will get your rewards. The poor little players might be tired, particularly if it goes on for over half an hour, but why would this matter in the World Cup Final? It’s a one-off game and deserves special circumstances, and with at least 95% of those involved almost certain to be playing in Europe they would have the rest of the summer to get over their exertions. And for the fans, clutching the stubs of their €1,000 tickets, it may go some way towards constituting value for money.

    If you want to settle the Final without penalties, and by virtue of footballers playing football, this is surely the best and fairest way to do so. Heaven forbid we ever see the day where some anorak statistician comes down the stadium steps waving a piece of paper in his hand like some latter day Neville Chamberlain, proclaiming Argentina as world champions over Germany having conceded only five free-kicks to their eight.



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