The World Cup is the most important tournament for what is pretty strongly believed to be the “most popular sport in the world”. There is something about the World Cup that strikes me the wrong way, and for all of the talk about it being the “beautiful game” I can’t just get past this one thing. Since 1978 there have been 24 times that a World Cup tournament game was determined by a shootout. The tournament happens only once every four years so that means over nine tournaments 2 ⅔ elimination matches are determined by penalty kicks.
If you were talking to your friends about the shootout determining the winner a round of the playoffs they would lose their freaking minds. The shootout is reviled by all who think the game should be finished as it is designed. That both offense, defence, and even little things like passing, should be a part of determining the winner right until the end. Even the NHL agrees with this to an extant, although they will never get rid of the shootout. During the General Manager Meetings during the season there was a lot of discussion of how to minimize how often games go to shootouts. To qualify for the playoffs teams watch how many games they have won by shootout as those are the first thing to go out the window if the teams match in points.
So why does no one seem to care in the world of soccer. It can’t be that it is universally accepted. Barclay’s Premier League, the most popular soccer league in the world, does not employ shootouts. The idea of trying to end every soccer match in America with a winner and loser was abandoned by MLS. They abandoned the shootout and found the dreaded “tie” to be a better alternative.
I have a theory. We accept and we celebrate sport as it was presented to us as a child. Talk to most people about the glory days of their sport and they think of their time as a child when they first started to really recognize players and understand their importance to the game. This kind of nostalgia explains why LeBron James is continually being cut down, “He’s good, but I remember watching Jordan play and Jordan could run circles around this guy.” Soccer fans do this too. The important part is remembering that the penalty kick to decide games has been around since ‘78. More than enough time for a generation to accept it.
So what do we learn from this. Life and sports change, so life goes on and we must change with it. Or the anti-shootout crowd could take this as a rallying cry to fight to kill the shootout before it becomes totally ingrained into a generation of hockey fans.