Germans thrive when put on the spot

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The Independent Football

The English have been inept, the Italians even worse and the Germans have ruled with ruthless efficiency.

The English have been inept, the Italians even worse and the Germans have ruled with ruthless efficiency. Not politics, but penalties. And more precisely World Cup penalties, where England and Italy have yet to come away from a finals shoot-out with a success despite five attempts between them while the Germans have a record of played three, won three. Danke schön, auf wiedersehen.

It was not always thus for Germany with spot-kicks. They took part in the first ever major international to be decided on penalties and lost. That was in the final of the 1976 European Championship against Czechoslovakia in Belgrade.

It was 2-2 after extra time. Czechoslovakia scored all five penalties but Uli Hoeness shot high and wide. A replay had originally been scheduled in case of a draw, but hours before the match the two managers decided that penalties should decide the game. They had wrongly assumed it would not come to that.

The next major shoot-out came four years later, in the play-off for third place in the 1980 European Championship. Again the Czechs were involved and triumphant, this time against Italy. The score, 9-8, is not the highest aggregate shoot-out tally in an international tournament, but it was the most accurate international shoot-out, with 94.4 per cent of the kicks converted (or 17 of the 18 taken).

The highest aggregate major international shoot-out came in the final of the African Nations' Cup in 1992 in Senegal, when the Ivory Coast beat Ghana 11-10 after a 0-0 draw. Three kicks from the 24 taken went unconverted.

The African Nations' Cup has a history littered with shoot-outs, including four finals, in 1986, 1992, 2000 and this year, when Cameroon won 3-2 from spot-kicks over Senegal.

At club level, the biggest shoot-out in a major (i.e national) league or cup came in the 1988-89 Argentinian championship. One game between Argentinos Juniors and Racing Club, which had finished 2-2, saw 44 penalties taken before Juniors won 20-19.

That mark – if not the aggregate total – was eclipsed in a Turkish Cup match in November 1996 between Galatasaray and Genclerbirligi, when the latter prevailed 17-16 in a shoot-out involving 34 spot kicks.

Penalty deciders in the world's two biggest international events – the European Championship and the World Cup – have been less spectacular if much more famous. Five European Championship semi-finals have gone to penalties, including both Euro 96 semi-finals, with England losing their shoot-out to Germany 6-5 having beaten Spain 4-2 on penalties in the quarters. Italy beat the Dutch 3-1 on penalties in the Euro 2000 semi-finals.

The Azzurri have not fared as well in the World Cup. They have been in three shoot-outs and lost them all, in 1990, 1994 (in the final) and 1998. In both 1990 and 1998 they had not lost any match in normal time beforehand.

Germany, in contrast, have won every World Cup match they have had to settle on penalties, from the first ever World Cup shoot-out (a 5-4 semi-final win over France in 1982) to the eighth. That was in Italy, apparently, in 1990, but memories of the losers are sketchy, as they are of a second-round shoot-out in 1998 in St-Etienne.