Well, yet another key international soccer match, this time the most important game of all, the World Cup Finals, was decided by penalty kicks. Penalty kicks are the most absurd way to determine a championship that I can imagine. They are barely one step removed from a coin toss in terms of their ability to really determine who the best team is. Its like giving up on a baseball game in the 12th inning and settling it with a home run derby.
I understand that in regular matches and probably in pool play, logistics require that games not go on for hours and penalty kicks make sense. But by the time you get to the quarterfinals, and certainly the finals, why can't they just play the freaking game until someone wins? That's what they do in the Stanley Cup, and in US pro football -- each have ways of settling ties quickly for regular season games, but once crunch time comes, they play until there is a winner. In Wimbledon, they settle sets with tie breakers but come the fifth set, they play until someone wins. Its not like the stadium is booked for anything else the rest of the day. And do they really think anyone in the stands is going to get tired and go home? Pro hockey fans will tell you there is no more compelling time in their sport than overtime in a Stanley Cup Final. How great would it have been to have just left the two teams on the field until one was a winner, even if that took two more hours? I mean, they have waited four years for this moment, they can't put in a few more minutes on the field?
As an American non-soccer guy, I have really given this World Cup a chance. I was in England for much of the tournament, so I not only watched but got to experience some of the excitement of the populous. And I have, excluding the silly play-acting fake injury thing, mostly enjoyed the games. But they lost me right at the end. Settling their once-every-four-years world championships with ridiculous penalty kicks demonstrates to me that soccer types have no respect for their own game. After just 30 minutes of overtime, they give up on their own game and have teams play a different game to determine a winner. So if they don't have respect for their own game, why should I have any? Americans are never going to fall in love with a game that decides its championships with the moral equivalent of a coin flip.
Update: First, though this post was applied to soccer, its not just a soccer rant. I went on the same rant several years ago when the Olympic ice hockey gold was awarded with a shootout.
Second, I get it that the athletes are tired. I'm not going to put my toe in the water on the "what sport requires the most athleticism" debate, except to say that soccer is right up there, with its 45 minutes of continuous play each half. (But I will say that, having personally played rugby for years, rugby is right up there too -- one thing soccer aficionados don't acknowledge is how much physical contact and going down on the ground frequently -- for more than just a fake injury -- takes out of you above and beyond just continuous running.)
My point is that shoot-outs are a different game - they are not real soccer. Yes they use the same equipment and have roughly the same goal (to get the ball in the net) but by that definition "horse" is real basketball. Anyone up for settling an NBA finals after two overtimes with a game of horse? The beauty of soccer is in the passing and the assists, in the clever footwork, in the wing trying to use his speed to turn the corner. Where are those in a shootout?
If athletes are getting exhausted, it just increases the likelihood that someone will score and end the game, since it is as true in soccer as any other sport that fatigue hurts defense more than offense. And this might stop teams that play a defensive game in overtime, who are clearly playing for the shootout.
And think of posterity. No one is going to remember this World Cup final game except to say that Italy beat France on penalty kicks. But what if the game went 3-1/2 hours in a grueling test of endurance before France finally punched it in, all the players too exhausted to celebrate. People would talk about the match for years. I'm not saying you play this way for every run of the mill international competition. But wouldn't it be nice once every four years to actually decide the championship actually playing soccer, rather than horse?
Update #2: Per a couple of commenters, nothing in this post is meant to imply that sports that are more popular in the US are not without their flaws. Silly set-piece fist fights in hockey and the unfairness of overtime rules in football (putting too much emphasis on winning the coin toss) come to mind immediately.