If the Confederations Cup final between Germany and Chile goes to penalties, the watching world—or at least that part of it that watches the World Cup warm-up event—could be in for a long night. The final will bring together the old and new penalty kings.
Can Penalty Kings Chile Make it Three in a Row?
Germany’s penalty pedigree is so long established that Gary Lineker joked years ago that “Football is a simple game. Twenty-two men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win.” And although he didn’t say it, the implication was obvious: they would win on penalties, as they did against English teams in the semi-finals of both the 1990 World Cup and the 1996 European Championship. In fact, Germany have not lost a single penalty shootout in a major international tournament since succumbing to Czechoslovakia when Antonín Panenka scored his namesake chip goal.
If Sunday’s final goes to penalties, Chile may put that record to the test. Unlike Germany, their prowess at penalty shootouts is a more recent invention, as is their ability to win international tournaments. It was only two years ago in the 2015 Copa America, that Chile won their first ever major footballing tournament of any kind, when they defeated Lionel Messi’s Argentina 4-1 on penalties. Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez scored the winning spot-kick.
That first triumph was achieved on home soil, so pundits questioned Chile’s ability to replicate that success away from home. They silenced their doubters by repeating the feat, almost penalty for penalty, by again beating Argentina—Messi et al—at the special “Centenario” (or 100th) Copa America that was staged in the USA last year. Once again, they displayed extraordinary nerve and skill from 12 yards to win their second major tournament, not just in succession but in successive years. They became the first international team ever to do so—most continental or global tournaments are only staged once every four years.
Consequently, Chile are on the verge of an unprecedented hat-trick of tournament wins, achieved in three successive years. The Confederations Cup may be largely ignored or even derided by those nations that are not in it, but it is nonetheless the one international tournament that brings together all six continental champions and the World Champions, so its overall quality cannot be questioned.
As ever, this year’s Confederations Cup may have provided some useful pointers to the outcome of next year’s World Cup. The most significant may be the inability of the host nation, Russia, to make the semi-finals, the first time that has happened to a host nation at a Confederations Cup since the tournament assumed its current format in 2005. There are some who doubt Russia’s suitability as a World Cup host for a range of reasons including potential racism and doping, but perhaps the most serious is that they will fail to make it past the first round, which would have a dampening effect on the whole tournament.
By contrast, Germany and Chile have proved themselves to be in fine fettle. Germany have left many of their most experienced players at home to give their young starlets invaluable tournament experience. But remarkably, their youth and relative lack of experience have barely been evident, especially in the semi-final against Mexico, when they put Russia’s conquerors to the sword. And the Chilean team have proved that Sanchez, Vidal, Bravo et al truly are a golden generation, by taking the form they have shown in the Americas to Eurasia.
Of course, Germany and Chile’s ability to take penalties may not be tested at all if the match is won by either side in normal or extra time. If, however, it does go to a shootout, the suspicion is that Chile’s more experienced players and penalty-takers will just edge out Germany’s callow youths and prove that they are the new penalty kings of world football.
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