Three ideas for Sepp Blatter
28 July ~ FIFA president Sepp Blatter thinks we should be looking for better ways to settle drawn matches than penalties. I have some suggestions for him. There are three situations that can lead to shootouts, as far as I can see. They are domestic cup ties, end of season play-offs and games in the knockout stages of international and continental club competitions. The first, which I would only use in domestic cup competitions, is that penalties should still be taken, but before the start of extra time and not after it has failed to produce a winner.
This would mean the team that "lost" the shootout would still win the game if they scored more goals than their opponents in extra time. Some might argue that this solution would result in the team that "won" the shootout playing negatively. In many cases of extra time nowadays the impression is that both teams are playing for penalties.
I am fairly sure that in more than 50 per cent of games with extra time, the result does not change. If my suggestion were adopted, throughout extra time one team would inevitably have to attack as sitting back would not be an option. As a result extra time would have a dramatic content that it often lacks as things are at the moment.
My suggestion for end of season play-offs is very simple, and is already used in Italy. If two teams are level after 120 or 210 minutes, the winner is the one that finished higher in the regular season. It is simple and just.
The third suggestion, applicable in competitions with group games which lead to a knockout phase would, with rare exceptions, end the need for shootouts altogether. Italy against England in the recent Euro 2012 quarter-final will do as an example. With the game goalless after 120 minutes, England would have progressed because they had a better record in the group stage – seven points to Italy's five.
Had their points been equal goal difference, followed by goals scored, would have been the deciding factor. Only after these three factors had failed to produce a winner would penalties be used, but again they would be taken before the start of extra time. Of course, Italy's five points in their group might be worth as much as England's seven in theirs, but you cannot have everything, and in any case seeding means that in theory there are no weak or strong groups.
This solution would also make the group stage far more interesting. Teams that won their first two games and were already through to the next stage would think twice about resting key players in their final game. It would risk a defeat that could put them at a disadvantage in the knockout stage. Every team would have the incentive to get as many points as possible in their group games, and only matches between two teams already eliminated would be dead rubbers.
None of these changes is likely to be taken up because penalty shootouts make for very dramatic television. Have the football authorities, who appear to need TV money so much, really got the will to adopt solutions that will lead to fairer results but deprive the viewing public of the vicarious thrills that a shootout produces? If they have not, they might as well stop bleating about the inherent unfairness of the present system. If they have, they should stop talking and start doing something. Richard Mason