As I write this, the England Women’s national team is engaged in a penalty shootout with Nigeria, in the Round of 16 at the Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. They would go on to win the shootout 4-2, and book their place in the quarter-finals.
An England team winning a penalty shootout is something of an aberration. It just isn’t done. The men’s team have been involved in 10 shootouts since 1990, and only won three of them. The most recent loss was against Italy in the Euro 2020 Final, and we’re at a stage where if an England game goes to penalties, there’s an expectation of defeat. For the men at least.
The women’s team appear to have had less shootouts, but their record is certainly better in terms of percentages. Then again, the women’s team have a confidence and belief that the men’s team could do with.
At any level, of any competition, penalty shootouts are nerve-jangling affairs. They are great equalisers: no matter the gap in quality or distance on the table, both teams go into a shootout with the same opportunity. They are horrible to watch, even if you have no personal investment in the outcome, because at some point as a football fan, you’ll have experienced a penalty shootout for your favoured side, and thus you will know the anxiety that goes with them.
Occasionally, discussions go up about how to resolve matches without the lottery of penalties, but with the football calendar being so full, holding replays for matches is, in most circumstances, impractical. Where would these fixtures be placed? How would you squeeze in a replay for the 2022 World Cup Final? For that matter, after an epic game, would a replay feel anti-climatic? Whilst penalties are tense affairs, I can’t think of a better system right now.