Kylian Mbappe missed a penalty! A crucial one. For a footballer blessed with electric heels and thundering strikes, the 12-yard shot should have been a piece of cake. Especially with only the goalkeeper to beat. But penalty shootouts are notoriously tricky. Just ask England, who have suffered many heartbreaks from the spot.
With France’s Euro 2020 fortunes at stake on Monday, Mbappe’s penalty kick was saved by Switzerland goalkeeper Yann Sommer. While the Swiss celebrated, Mbappe’s agony reverberated across France as the Les Bleus crashed out after starting the tournament as overwhelming favourites.
That miss put the French star in the band of stalwarts who muffed their shots in shootouts of a major tournament. French golden boy Michel Platini, Brazilian legends Zico and Socrates, Italy’s Divine Ponytail Roberto Baggio, and England’s darling David Beckham are among the high-profile players who have succumbed to the pressure of penalties. In fact, Zico and Socrates faltered in the same game: a rarity.
Three stars who failed in a match
Three of the best footballers failed to score from the spot in the same match: the 1986 World Cup quarterfinal. Zico missed a penalty during regulation time against France, and Socrates’ effortless shot in the shootout was saved by goalie Joel Bats. And French captain Platini shot over the crossbar.
Weird as it sounds, the match illustrates the pressures of taking a penalty. Scoring from a penalty looks like the easiest task on a football pitch, but time and again, the best players have stumbled. And the Brazil-France match is a prime example.
What makes a penalty kick such a challenging proposition? It’s a one-to-one situation, so scoring should be easy. But the pressure on the penalty-taker is colossal.
In contrast, the goalkeeper has zero pressure. There’s nothing to lose. So if the penalty-taker scores, no tears will be shed, and the goalie can get on with the game. And if the shot is saved, the goalie becomes a hero.
Goalkeepers prepare meticulously, watching videos of potential penalty-takers in the rival camp. People are creatures of habit, so penalty-takers too have favourite targets in the net. Although they try to vary the shots, they opt for safety and fire at the favourite spot at critical junctures. That’s when the goalkeeper wins.
No situation is tenser than a shootout in a final. Remember how Italian skipper Baggio gifted Brazil the 1994 World Cup with a shot that soared over the goal into the night sky.
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England and penalties have a thorny relationship. Beckham’s miss against Portugal sent England out of Euro 2004, and the current coach Gareth Southgate hasn’t yet lived down the pain of the penalty miss in Euro’96. That’s nothing compared to the misery of Stuart Pearce and Chris Waddle, whose poor shots against West Germany in 1990 hurt the Englishmen the most. With that, England’s best chance to make the World Cup final since 1966 went up in smoke.
Much worse was France’s fate in Euro 2020, when Mbappe’s misdirected kick sent them out of the tournament. It will give the Paris St. Germain player some sleepless nights. He will get over it. After all, present-day stalwarts like Lionel Messi and Neymar too have fluffed their shots from the spot. So there’s no shame in missing it.
Football is a team game. France’s exit is a collective failure of the team. A team that fluffed a 3-1 lead cannot pin the blame on Mbappe. It shouldn’t have come down to that.
See you at the World Cup, Mbappe.