FIFA 2014

Dutch penalty phobia

Holland has won just one of its five tournament shootouts, a win percentage of 20 per cent.

England may be out of the World Cup but there is one other team that fears the penalty shootout almost as much as Roy Hodgson’s side.

The Netherlands is one of the tournament favourites after blitzing reigning champion Spain 5-1 and beating Chile 2-0 but it will not want to take Sunday’s last-16 match against Mexico to a shootout. The reason? Holland has won just one of its five tournament shootouts, a win percentage of 20 per cent. Only England, with its win percentage of 14 per cent (one win in seven), has a worse record from 12 yards.

Lowest point

Holland’s lowest point from the spot came at the Amsterdam Arena, in its Euro 2000 semifinal against Italy. It managed to miss five penalties in the same game, including two in normal time. Frank de Boer, the captain, was the biggest culprit, missing after 36 minutes, and then again in the shootout, after Luigi Di Biagio had scored Italy’s first penalty.

“Who will keep Holland happy for the next few days by helping us win this? Frank de Boer? Yes, he would never miss twice, so he will step up,” said Dutch commentator Theo Reitsma as de Boer took the long walk to the spot.

de Boer’s twin brother Ronald had told him to go hard down the middle, and that was the plan. “I was not even that nervous,” de Boer said. “[The Italy goalkeeper Francesco] Toldo made it into a game. He winked at me. But this time I had no doubts. I wanted to tell him: ‘So you know where I’m going to shoot, good for you.’” de Boer winked back but he hit a weak shot, right of centre, which Toldo stopped with his feet. “It was only because I was tired that I hit it badly. We were mentally drained by this time, and our previous record at penalties was not giving us any hope.”

Then Gianluca Pessotto scored and Jaap Stam blasted over the bar. It was 2-0 Italy. Francesco Totti was next. The previous day, Totti had beaten Alessandro Nesta at PlayStation football after training, and scored one of his goals with a penalty cucchiaio, Italian for the Panenka. “One of these days I will do it in a game,” he told him.

Edwin van der Sar dived right and Totti’s chip flew perfectly down the centre of the goal.

Italy was 3-0 up and won the shootout 3-1 after Paul Bosvelt missed. After the game, the Dutch coach Frank Rijkaard resigned, but not before pointing out how hard shootouts are. “We practised almost every day, but it’s something unique to the game and we showed once again we’re no good at it.”

The numbers don’t lie

The numbers bear that out. The average conversion rate in a penalty shootout is 76 per cent (that figure drops to 71 per cent in the highly-pressured World Cup environment) but Holland’s conversion rate is only 67 per cent. At the other end, their opponents have scored 88 per cent of their penalties.

Rijkaard was merely echoing the words of his coaching mentor Johan Cruyff whose opinion, as a national icon, has dictated Holland’s attitude to penalties more than anything else.

Cruyff is assumed to be a penalty expert because, in 1982, against Helmond Sport, he scored a famous penalty after exchanging passes from the spot with team-mate Jesper Olsen. There are two theories why Cruyff did not fancy penalties. One is that the essence of Cruyff the footballer was all about movement and intuition and that the idea of standing still and waiting to kick the ball after the referee’s whistle was anathema to him. The other comes from Bert Hiddema, author of Cruijff! Van Jopie tot Johan.

“Good penalty-takers have a hard shot,” he said. “And that was exactly what he lacked. At a young age he didn’t have the strength [for it] and would instead use a curved kicking style, which was much more suitable for creative passing than penalties.”

So here’s some advice to Holland before the Mexico game. Do not listen to Cruyff when he says you cannot practise for penalties. Of course you can. The Dutch players need to practise, and with purpose, for that stripped-down moment of pure football – just ball, kicker, goal and goalkeeper – that might decide their fate. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2014

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Printable version | Apr 10, 2020 2:58:43 AM |

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