UEFA has come up with a system that will change the way penalty shootouts work. But will the new plan fix what’s wrong with penalties?
Penalty shootouts are, what’s the best word … stupid, flawed, unfair, all of the above? Penalties mean neither team was able to win by, you know, playing soccer. So, they try to settle it with what amounts to little more than a game of chance. Which, interestingly, is what they used to do to decide winners of tie games.
The upshot: the penalty shootout is a terrible way of deciding which team is better. But UEFA claims it has worked out a solution.
Starting with this year’s European Under-17 Championship, penalty kicks will be taken in a different order.
Instead of teams alternating between taking kicks, the new scheme has a sort of syncopated rhythm. The first team will take a kick, followed by the other team taking two, then the first team will take two, and so on. It’s been nicknamed the ‘ABBA’ system. And like its musical namesake, it’s annoying and distracts people from better options.
This is disappointing news considering there have been a lot of good ideas floated on how to remove the penalty shootout, from removing one player from each team at a particular minute mark, à la new NHL overtime rules, to a statistical decider like shots on goal.
But it turns out UEFA isn’t planning on fixing the penalty shootout. It’s just doing a bit of housekeeping.
UEFA’s logic isn’t particularly sound, either. They claim that “The hypothesis is that the player taking the second kick in the pair is under greater mental pressure.” Even if we could measure mental pressure, it’s unclear whether that would be true.
The one good argument to be made is that the first team to take the kick wins 60 percent of the time. But would taking the odds down to 50 percent really be a solution? All that would do is confirm the penalty shootout is a random process.
In a sport with several more pressing issues, it seems strange that this small tinkering is what they’ve chosen to focus on.