The penalty shootout that should never have been lost
As far as penalty shootouts go, it is unlikely that the recent shootout between Italy and Germany in the Euro 2016 Quarter-final will ever be bettered. Yes, there have been some unforgettable and dramatic shootouts down the years, especially at World Cups and the 1994 final was even decided by one. But this one had added spice with Germany having an aura about them that made them almost unbeatable. It also featured two of the greatest goalkeepers the game has ever seen – Manuel Neuer, who is widely recognised as the number one keeper in the world and Gianluigi Buffon, Italy’s most-capped player. Both players had tasted victory at the highest level in World Cup finals but there was one additional factor that swayed this shootout massively in the Azzurri’s favour – the head to head record between the two sides – Germany had never beaten Italy in 8 previous competitive encounters.
Italy won the toss, making them a massive favourite. Studies have shown that whichever side takes the first spot-kick has a 60% chance of success. This is useful information to have at hand if you are betting on a team to qualify via a penalty shootout or on individual players to convert their spot-kick in a shootout but most bookmakers are aware of the advantage so you are unlikely to gain an edge on them!
There was surely no way Germany could win this one with the added psychological pressure they would be put under, playing catch-up… or was there?
World Cup winners Bastian Schweinsteiger, Thomas Müller and Mesut Özil would all crumble with the weight of that expectation upon their shoulders but, remarkably, none of those misses would prove to be decisive.
Italy penalty takers
There was a major surprise in normal time, with the brilliant Juventus defender Leonardo Bonucci equalising from the spot for Italy – it was the first regular time penalty the veteran defender had ever taken in his career, a quite remarkable stat. He wasn’t able to repeat the feat in the shootout, though, having his effort saved by Neuer this time.
However, the twists had started much earlier than that. New Chelsea boss Antonio Conte played what he assumed was his trump card, replacing Giorgio Chiellini with Simone Zaza moments before the end of extra-time. It was a move that brought back memories of Louis van Gaal, who received plenty of praise at the 2014 World Cup finals when he brought on Tim Krul between the sticks as a late substitute. That gamble played off handsomely, the Netherlands went on to win the shootout against Costa Rica, with the Newcastle United keeper playing a pivotal role and van Gaal’s actions were highly acclaimed. This one backfired big time though, with Zaza turning himself into an overnight internet sensation, after producing one of the most comical run-up routines ever witnessed, before blazing the ball over the bar.
Incredibly, it was the first penalty he had taken since May 2015, which he missed, having scored with his previous 4 attempts. Ironically, it should be noted that Chiellini, Italy’s highest rated player on WhoScored in their round-of-16 victory over Spain, had, like Bonucci, never taken a regular time penalty before.
Neuer needs to be given great credit and Graziano Pellè made the mistake of playing mind games with him when Italy were very much in the box-seat, indicating that he would try a panenka-style kick. The imposing German keeper had been jumping up and down on his line and it clearly had an impact. The majority of the Azzurri takers tried to avoid eye-contact but the Southampton striker got involved, before paying a heavy price, with an atrocious attempt that missed the target by some distance.
Germany had the chance to win the tie, with both sides having converted two penalties apiece but the pressure clearly got to Schweinsteiger, who skied his effort over the bar, adding to earlier misses from Müller and Özil. Germany just don’t miss penalties so for them to fail with 3 out of 5 attempts – it was almost unthinkable!
The first 6 sudden death penalties were all converted, with the Italian takers clearly noting that Neuer was prepared to commit early. Each effort was struck down the middle.
Matteo Darmian couldn’t repeat the feat though, perhaps anticipating that Neuer might hold his ground this time and his effort was easily pushed away. Jonas Hector stepped forward to slot home the decisive kick and seal a 7-6 victory. It ended years of torture for Germany as they finally put that Italy hoodoo to bed.
Fantasy Premier League penalty takers
It certainly wasn’t Premier League quality at its best – Pellè, Schweinsteiger and Özil had all missed before Darmian’s attempt proved pivotal, with Neuer saving his weak effort.
Incredibly none of the four semi-finalists at Euro 2016 – Germany, France, Portugal and Wales have yet to score a regular time penalty in the finals, despite playing a total of 20 matches between them. The aforementioned Özil and Cristiano Ronaldo did miss from the spot in the group stage but when you consider that Leicester City converted 10 of the 13 penalty kicks they were awarded, in their recent Premier League winning season, it is quite a startling statistic. For any fantasy football manager that stacked his Euro 2016 line-up with proven penalty takers, it probably doesn’t make pleasant reading!
Maybe, a penalty will decide one of the semi-finals or even the final. Then again, don’t rule out another shootout – and if that happens who would bet against Manuel Neuer and Germany!