Posted by Rachel Ullrich
There are few guarantees in the FIFA World Cup -- South Africa has proved that it's no exception, providing plenty of surprises in the first few weeks of action. One almost-certain thing, though, is that whoever lifts the trophy July 11 will have faced football's ultimate test of nerves. Four of the five past winners have faced a penalty kick shootout at some point during their knockout campaigns, with two of those occurring during the final.
Near the end of Saturday's game, it looked as though Uruguay and South Korea might be heading that way in the very first game of the knockout rounds. Luis Suarez's sublime strike tipped the score in favor of the Uruguayans, but we can count on seeing other matches end without a winner after 90 minutes.
FIFA has set rules for how a winner is decided when that happens. At the end of 90 minutes, the squads are given a short break of five minutes to regroup. Then the squads will play two 15-minute extra periods. These periods do not use "golden goal" (first to score wins) or "silver goal" (match is decided at the end of the first period if one team scores) rules, so all 30 minutes must be played in full.
If the score is still level at the end of 120 minutes, the winner is decided by a penalty kick shootout. FIFA's Laws of the Game include a two-page section on the procedure of taking penalty kicks in a shootout, but the gist is that the team that scores the most goals from the penalty spot wins. The teams first play best-of-five, alternating turns at the spot. If the number is still even after five, the shootout will continue until one team has scored more goals (in the same number of kicks).
For the most part, players are expected to score and goalkeepers are not expected to stop the shots -- which makes it so much more impressive when a keeper does pull off an athletic stop, and so much more disappointing when a player sends it wide. In 2006, Italy scored all five of its goals from the spot, while France's David Trezeguet hit the crossbar, giving the Azzurri a 5-3 win. (Because France was kicking second, the fifth player did not take his spot kick; Italy had already clinched it.)
The final match of a World Cup has gone to penalty kicks only twice -- in Germany in 2006 and 1994's Brazil-Italy final in Los Angeles. Yet, since 1982, when the format was introduced, the tournament has seen 20 shootouts in the knockout rounds, and last year's four shootouts tied for the most in Cup history. So chances are, we'll see at least a few this season in South Africa.