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Phil Ascough: About Germany and penalties

Proof if any were needed that the intensity of the World Cup was about to be ramped right up for the knockout stage came with the first match in the round of 16 — and the need for a penalty shoot-out to separate Brazil and Chile.

A Greece equaliser in the last minute of normal time sent their tie against Costa Rica the same way. Three more contests needed extra time to find a winner, and of the three battles settled in 90 minutes or so, one was turned on its head with two Dutch goals in three minutes to spark a furious reaction from Mexico.

It all adds further fuel to the cliché that there are no easy games these days and, with eight knockout matches still to come, it is entirely possible that this World Cup will set a record for the number of matches settled on penalties.

Germany in 2006 is the only World Cup to feature four shoot-outs since the tournament expanded to 32 teams. Italia '90 also returned a total of four shoot-outs from a World Cup of 24 teams, although both tournaments comprised 16 knockout matches.

In his foreword to my World Cup book, Never Mind The Penalties, Kevin Kilbane remembers watching the 1990 tournament, glued to the TV and determined to emulate his heroes as Ireland edged out Romania on penalties in the second round.

Fast-forward 12 years and Kevin, who played more than 100 matches for Ireland, was one of three who failed to score as the Irish lost a second-round shoot-out to Spain in Suwon, South Korea.

He recalls: “We went out on penalties with me feeling heartbroken after my shot was saved. I felt we should have beaten Spain, but that's football. My best and worst memories are about penalty shoot-outs.”

Of the eight teams who will give their all this weekend to try to reach the semi-finals, only Colombia have never experienced a penalty shoot-out at the World Cup finals. They came close in their only previous appearance in the knockout stage, with a goal from Bernardo Redín dragging them back into contention five minutes from the end of extra time against Cameroon in 1990, but Roger Milla's two goals sent the Africans through to meet England.

Costa Rica's shoot-out debut came last Sunday against Greece. Belgium also have one win from one attempt, although it was 28 years ago in the quarter-final against Spain in Mexico.

The English obsession with penalties is driven by the national side's desperate record. Their only win on penalties at a major tournament came in the quarter-final of Euro '96 against Spain, and it was followed in the semi-final by a shoot-out defeat against Germany.

The BBC website informs us that there were 204 spot-kicks taken in World Cup shoot-outs to the end of the 2010 tournament. Of those, 162 were taken with the right foot, 42 with the left and 60 were saved or missed.

Deeper analysis looks at the players under pressure: when scoring the penalty would win the shoot-out, 93 per cent of takers found the back of the net; when missing meant elimination, only 44 per cent held their nerve to score.

No festival of football involving England is complete without a media frenzy over penalties. Newspaper columnists call in psychologists or demand that players practise, practise, practise. Pundits are more sympathetic, no doubt mindful of their own experiences, and maintain that you cannot replicate the intensity of match conditions.

Coaches will know as a match progresses towards the dreaded 120-minute mark that they need to have reliable penalty takers on the pitch — but here's an idea: why not pick a goalkeeper with the best record for saving spot-kicks, and stick him on with a minute to go?

World Cup six-pack

Stielike unstuck: The Germans may be known as the kings of the penalty shoot-out, but one of their men was the first to fail from the spot. They still won the controversial 1982 semi-final, but they had to come from behind after Uli Stielike saw his kick saved by the goalkeeper for France!

Three times a loser: Italy in 1998 became the first team to lose three penalty shoot-outs at the World Cup finals — and they did it in successive tournaments. Redemption came in 2006 in the final against France.

Swiss misses: Switzerland claimed the unwanted record of becoming the first team to fail to score in a World Cup penalty shoot-out when they went down 3-0 against Ukraine in the second round in 2006.

German efficiency: Germany are the only team to have maintained a 100 per cent record, having contested more than one World Cup penalty shoot-out. The last of their four victories came in 2006 against Argentina.

English agony: England have the worst record, with defeats from their three shoot-outs against the Germans in 1990, Argentina in 1998 and Portugal in 2006.

First and last: Two of the worst penalties were seen at the 1994 World Cup. Roberto Baggio blasted the ball high over the bar at the end of the final to hand the trophy to Brazil. Music superstar Diana Ross had started it all with a shambolic kick as part of the opening ceremony.

n Phil Ascough, the author of Never Mind The Penalties — The Ultimate World Cup Quiz Book (foreword by Kevin Kilbane) and Never Mind The Tigers, both published by The History Press, was a senior reporter and sub-editor at The Royal Gazette from 1989 to 1992

Dangerous from 12 yards: Michael Umaña scores Costa Rica's winning penalty against Greece last Sunday that put them in the quarter-finals. The Central American side were perfect with all five penalties, making them dangerous opponents if they can take more fancied opponents that far

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Published July 03, 2014 at 9:00 am (Updated July 03, 2014 at 12:12 am)

Phil Ascough: About Germany and penalties

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