Back when I didn’t know much about soccer, a penalty shootout was about the most exciting thing there was. But I’ve grown to hate spot-kicks since, and today’s Brazilian victory over Chile on penalties only served to confirm my disdain. It’s not that I don’t think penalties are objectively exciting, or that I believe there’s a better way for games to end, I just hate how penalty kicks affect how games are played and how they affect the individuals that take them.
After Chile’s equalizer in the first half, the Chileans looked the much more dangerous side. Brazil’s fluidity was gone, and they were feeling the growing anxiety in the stands. Chile weren’t creating many first-rate chances at that point, but Brazil was beating themselves, and could have combusted at any moment. Had Chile kept their pressure up, a mistake was likely to come. But around the 75th minute. Chile stopped attacking with regularity, instead deciding they would take their chances in penalties. For the last 45 minutes, including extra-time, Chile played with a high level of caution, not capitalizing on Brazil’s fragile mental state. Had they not been waiting for penalties, I think a goal would have come.
Brazil should not have won that game, but because Chile played for penalties, a lifeline was offered to the hosts. In penalties, any team can win. In theory, that favors the underdog Chile, but today, it favored Brazil. All of a sudden, there was a clean slate for the hosts, and a chance to forget how underwhelming their performance was. The pressure was as high as it could be, but it had been high all game. For Neymar, the added pressure of penalties hardly mattered. But for Chile, a team that had little pressure on them from the start, penalties proved too much, as they missed three of the five.
Beyond what penalties did to Chile’s tactics, and the fact that a lifeline was offered to an undeserving Brazil, I also dislike watching spot-kicks on a personal level, even when I don’t have a team I’m rooting for. Seeing the crushed face of a player who has just missed a penalty is horrible – for they all feel like they’ve singularly let their country down. That one person carries the weight of an entire country doesn’t seem right to me, even if it makes sense soccer-wise. I hate watching people wilt under pressure. It’s not fun. And that’s not even taking into effect the feelings of a fan, and how agonizing penalties are. They are a brutal experience for all.
But through all that, Brazil has advanced to the quarterfinals. There are certainly a lot of questions to answer though, and they will face a tougher task in their quarterfinal. The Luiz Gustavo suspension for the upcoming game is no small matter, as he has been a rock in front of the back four. But aside from that, many other individuals need to step up. Oscar in particular for me was noticeably invisible going forward today. And for a team that is having such trouble creating chances without Neymar involved, Brazil needs Oscar to show off his creative potential. If he can be first choice for Jose Mourinho at Chelsea in the number 10 role, he shouldn’t be having as much trouble as he is now making an impact for his country.
I feel for Chile going out the way they did, but as I said above, I think they brought the suffering upon themselves with their tactics in the latter parts of the game. It would have been wonderful to see Mauricio Pinilla score that late screamer, but you can hardly say Chile deserved a goal at that stage. The true shame for the Chileans is that Arturo Vidal was never fit enough to make much of an impact on the field in Brazil. As one of the world’s best players, he could have been the difference today. But instead, he was quietly substituted and had to watch his country lose from the sidelines. I hope he gets another chance in Russia.
Lastly, I thought Howard Webb and his refereeing crew were excellent today. From the start he commanded the fiery game with authority, never falling prey to Neymar’s acting or Chile’s late attempts at time wasting. His decision on the Hulk handball needed to be perfect, and I felt it was. Big games need referees who aren’t afraid to make the tough call, and Webb did that today. I would like to see more of him in the coming weeks.
Despite my disdain for penalties, we were treated to an exciting first half and a level of intensity we hadn’t yet seen at the World Cup this year. Brazil will move on, and the neutrals will all be better for it in the end. Getting more chances to watch Neymar play for his country can never be a bad thing. Let’s hope there are many more games like this to come.