Updated: Jul 29, 2018
World Cup, Russia
Two matches decided on day two of the elimination round via the PK. Spain, heavily favored and dominant throughout the match, got completely up ended by a Russian side that committed to playing turtle. Once tied, it was clear the Russians had no intention of trying to win the game, they only wished to not lose. Then go for it in penalties. Clearly, their tactics worked.
While some may think this is boring or unfitting, I’m all for it. No way could Russia match the technical skills, man for man, of the Spaniards, so why try? The object is to win the game, with style or not (Brazil aside), and as we all know, the turtle beat the hare.
But could Spain have tilted the balance of the Penalties in their favor with a tactical shift of their own? In my observations of the game and several massive matches decided via the PK, I have come to the opinion that goalies are giving too much away. They guess a side, rather than react. And while the signature dive to space nets them a save one in five times, I contend that goalies would have a higher save percentage if they stayed home and reacted on the ball.
First, the fakes are too good. Watching the shooter for a sign as to which side he’s going to kick to is low percentage and often results in the goalie flinging himself wide while the shot goes casually down the middle. Yup, right down the middle. Think about it. If you’re the shooter, the highest percentage shot is RIGHT DOWN THE MIDDLE, the fat of the net. Since the goalie’s proclivity is to dive, the shooter simply sells his shot to a side then pops a cupcake at the space the goalie vacated. If the goalie stayed home, eyes on the ball and reacted, in the case of the cupcake down the middle, he’d make the save with ease.
"Every manager would like to see a match decided in 90 minutes. Because I don't think that there's any way you can prepare for penalty kicks."
--German International team coach Joachim Low
Now, I’m not suggesting the goalie never guess and never dive, but always guess and always dive? I think goalies are giving up a tactical advantage by always playing the same card. Plus, they give up the meat of the target. So I say this to the futball goalies of the world: once in a while, once in five shots, stay home, react to the ball and take away the meat of the net. Maybe you’ll earn a cupcake to eat.