Johannesburg: The World Cup moves into the knockout stage on Saturday and although no-one can predict exactly what will happen, one thing is likely: penalty shootouts are about to cause more joy and heartache.
Since the first World Cup penalty shootout ended in victory for West Germany over France in the 1982 semi-finals in Spain, the do-or-die method of deciding drawn matches has created some of the most memorable moments in the tournament’s history.
Two finals have been settled by penalties, in 1994 when Brazil beat Italy and in 2006 when Italy defeated France.
Diego Maradona, Socrates, Michel Platini and David Beckham have all missed shootout kicks, while Roberto Baggio standing head-bowed in horror after he skied the penalty that handed Brazil the 1994 World Cup remains one of the enduring images of sport.
Former international goalkeepers Oliver Kahn of Germany and Sergio Goycochea of Argentina as well as current Czech Republic keeper Petr Cech, who have all witnessed the highs and lows of facing spotkicks in their careers, shared their thoughts with the media on Friday, and the general agreement between them was you need far more than just luck to save a penalty.
Kahn, who made 86 appearances for Germany between 1994 and 2006 said the body language of the penalty taker gave the goalie the first clue about what was on his mind.
“You can read a lot from the body language of the player and where he is thinking of placing it” Kahn said.
“It is a psychological duel between the goalkeeper and the penalty taker. It has a lot to do with eye contact and body language.
“You can irritate him with your body language, you can see whether a player is fearful and you can see from his eyes if he makes a small mistake into which corner that ball will go.”
Cech, whose Czech Republic side failed to reach the finals, was asked by a reporter why if it was so easy to read body language did so many penalties end up in the net.
He gave the reporter the sort of steely stare he might reserve for Wayne Rooney or Lionel Messi as they prepared to take a penalty against him.
“If you have three seconds to read the body language, its easy, but if you have one tenth of a second to read his body language before you can decide what way to go, then it becomes difficult,” he dead-panned straight back.
“You have to do your homework, you know where the player can shoot, what his habit is, if he waits for the goalkeeper or if he chooses the corner.
“But you need to be strong, stay calm, try to keep your homework working, then you have a chance of saving it. You have to make yourself big.”
Kahn admitted than when his side Bayern Munich beat Valencia on penalties in the 2001 Champions League final, he didn’t remember anything he had researched about his opponents.
“I still remember very clearly, I was working with my coach Sepp Maier to figure out what all the players’ tactics were. But I forgot all about it. I went straight into a phase of absolute concentration. I couldn’t hear the crowd, the supporters nothing.”
Cech said that too much fuss had been made about the Jabulani ball whose flight and movement caused some wailing from coaches and players at the start of the tournament, although that criticism has died away in the last week.
“I have played with the ball and its fine. I didn’t have a problem,” Cech said. “It is not the right attitude to blame it on the ball. The ball is the same for everyone. It has been tested the same way every time.”
Kahn added: “The balls have changed over the last couple of years, they have become a lot faster and in addition to that in Johannesburg we are playing at an altitude of 1,700 meters, which makes the ball even faster.
“The goalkeepers have to work harder, but I don’t think that we can take the ball or the altitude as excuses.” he added.
If you do well at Asian Games, then you get confidence of winning a medal at World Championships.