As the World Cup draws closer, we’re still at the ‘denial’ stage of England’s inevitable penalty shootout exit.
Normally when a game ticks towards the 120 minute mark, neutrals will pray that no one scores robs us of the joy of a penalty shoot-out. Not England fans, though.
Gareth Southgate is yet to oversee a shootout during his tenure as manager, but his predecessors, between them, have a World Cup shootout record of played three, lost three.
Germany, Argentina and Portugal have all defeated England on spot-kicks after a 120-minute stalemate, while Germany (again), Portugal (again) and Italy have done the same in European Championships games. Only Spain have lost to England’s senior men’s side in the format.
Penalty shootouts might normally be a great conclusion to the game, but that’s only true when they’re unpredictable.
Now let’s be clear. Not all penalty kicks or penalty shoot-outs are created equal.
Sometimes we’ll encounter a fantastic shoot-out, with unsaveable kick after unsaveable kick. On other occasions, we’ll see the dirt worst of football, like that World Cup game in 2006 where Switzerland were unable to score a single goal in regulation time, in extra-time, or even during penalties.
We’re not sure what they expected after sending up a guy whose name started with ‘bar’, mind you – nominative determinism is real.
Now, you’re probably wondering how one penalty can be better than another if both hit the back of the net. The answer, my friends, is that they just can.
So here, without further ado, is a definitive ranking of types of penalty kick, from worst to best.
8. The side-foot
Essentially the default penalty. The penalty that you select at the start of a video game when you accidentally press ‘X’ too many times and don’t get to control your destiny. It looks bad if it’s saved, and doesn’t even look great if it goes in.
People will tell you it’s a good penalty if it goes in the goal and a bad penalty if it’s saved or if it misses the target. These people, for want of a better word, are idiots.
7. Low and hard
The ‘proper football man’ of penalties. The sort of penalty that Paul Merson would say deserves the Hull job because penalties like this never get a chance just because they’re low and hard.
In reality, the low and hard penalty would start well, finding the bottom corner the first couple of times, before panicking after being saved for the first time and missing the target repeatedly until January, when it signs Kieran Richardson on a free because he’s ‘the sort of lad you can trust’. Only ranks above the side-foot because it ‘makes the keeper work’.
6. The short run-up
No-nonsense, no-excitement. Next.
5. The stutter-step
The antithesis to the low-and-hard penalty. The tortoise to its hare. The espresso to its builder’s tea. The tagliatelle carbonara to its gammon, egg and chips.
Not a ‘good’ penalty, per se, but it gains some value by how angry it makes people. Often the manager of the player involved, in fairness.
Get it right, and the goalkeeper has dived out of the way to leave you with an empty net. Get it wrong, with the keeper not budging, and you’re left with this:
4. The Pressman
We actually saw one of these in last season’s Championship play-off final, from Reading’s Liam Kelly, but former Sheffield Wednesday goalkeeper Kevin Pressman is still the master of the ‘kick it as hard as you physically can’ approach.
What’s so great about this style is that you don’t even need to be a professional footballer to pull it off. Which makes it all that bit sweeter when someone who’s literally paid to do this says to himself: “I’m just going to close my eyes and leather the shit out of it”.
3. The Panenka
Football, as we all know, is predominantly about making your opponents look stupid. Anyone who denies this is a bare-faced liar.
Czechoslovakia international Antonin Panenka not only did this, but did it in a European Championships final, against an all-conquering West Germany team and their world-class goalkeeper Sepp Maier.
He did it by chipping the ball down the middle as Maier dived out of the way. We know this because now, every time a player does the same, it is known as a Panenka.
There’s nothing better than having the opposing goalkeeper look up at you, dumbfounded, unable to work out whether to be angry or congratulatory. Well, we say nothing, but...
2. The one-two
You can’t get away with this in a penalty shoot-out, because of a stupid thing called ‘the rules’, but for a penalty in a regular game there’s not a lot that compares to it.
You can look very foolish if it goes wrong, but if you get it right… hooo boy.
The Panenka makes the opposing goalkeeper look like an idiot. The one-two embarrasses their entire team.
Bonus points come from the fact that it was popularised by Johan Cruyff, but it’s the simple beauty of the move that makes this so great.
1. The Ezequiel
You probably haven’t heard of Ezequiel Calvente. The Spanish footballer was recently spotted playing with Gabor ‘trackie bottoms’ Kiraly at Hungarian club Haladas, having left his home country a few years back.
He played a handful of games for Spain’s under-19 and under-20 sides and scored just one goal. But what a goal.
With Spain 2-0 up against Italy in the European Under-19 Championships back in 2010, they were awarded a penalty and Ezequiel stepped up.
A cocky player might have slowed his run-up, or walked up to the spot before firing past goalkeeper Simone Colombi. A cockier player might have gone for the Panenka. Ezequiel did none of these things.
Colombi’s reaction to the kick, scored with Ezequiel’s standing foot, is what elevates it above the rest. It’s the look of a man who’s thinking “I don’t understand how he’s done this. It must be illegal, but I’m not sure how?”
The only way it could have been better is if he did this with the scores level at 0-0, or during a shoot-out. We can only hope he gets another chance.