Forget the match, give me the goals

Why sit through 90 minutes, David Lister asks, when the shoot- out captures it all?
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The Independent Online
Not since Russian Roulette was faddish at the turn of the century has there been a sporting event of such consummate skill and artistry.

Forget the match. Why sit through two hours for just two goals, when you can have 11 in a couple of minutes?

I delight in the penalty shoot-out. Kipling would have relished its infernal symmetry. It pits man against man, triumph against disaster, makes an instant god of a goalkeeper for guessing right on a 50-50 chance, and guarantees the most miserable summer imaginable to the poor chap in front of him who guessed wrong.

Heroism and humiliation: the twin pillars of spectator sport. Forget the twaddle about national pride, jingoism and sense of identity bringing the nation together around the television sets. It was the anticipation and excitement of the penalty shoot-out, that adrenalin-pumping, knicker- wetting, arguably even sexually charged climax - and all in the time it takes a kettle to boil.

"Oh, I do hope it doesn't go to penalties," was the mantra that echoed through every household on Wednesday night. Never in the history of association football have so many people lied so solemnly to themselves.

The mesmerising effect of the penalty shoot-out is the most obvious, though not the only, manifestation of high-speed sport. There is the tie- break in tennis, an absorbing, nail-biting and deliciously gratuitous and unjust way to finish a set. It hasn't taken long for the authorities to realise that the tie-break is inevitably more interesting than the 12 games that precede it. Some tennis clubs already run tie-break tournaments for children. The penalty shoot-out European championship cannot be far behind.

With luck no sport will be able to remain immune. Pensioners will snarl at each other, false teeth chattering, as a new rule gives them one final bowl to decide the match. There will be snooker halls where the only colour is the black, the rest discarded to save time. Boxing matches will start in the 15th round and continue till the first knockout - the "golden glove". Girls will weep inconsolably after the lacrosse lunge-out.

Alan Hansen on the BBC described one of the penalty shoot-outs as "pure theatre". It is, of course, something much more important than that. It is pure television. It gives sports producers undreamt of scope for the zoom shots of faces contorted with ecstasy or, even better, grief. Sport has at last discovered the 30-second culture. There is no turning back.