Never Miss a Penalty

R.W. Johnson · What my father taught me about football

When I was four my father decided to teach me about football. He had been a star of the Lancashire Combination League, scoring 120 goals in one 40-game season, after which Liverpool signed him. I asked him about the 120 goals. Well, he said, it's not as good as it sounds. Ten of them were penalties. I asked how many penalties he missed. He looked surprised. None, he said. No footballer should ever miss a penalty. Never ever.

I was useless at football compared to my father, but I remember that lesson well. It recurs to me powerfully after the Ghana-Uruguay game, with the chances Ghana threw away – the last-minute penalty fired high and then the poorly taken penalties in the shoot-out. Of course, one could argue that Suarez's deliberate hand ball should have been punished with the award of a penalty goal, but I can sympathise with a referee who did not want that decision to be the one to decide a quarter-final.

Looking at the way Netherlands stormed to beat Brazil, it probably doesn't matter: the Netherlands would probably beat either Uruguay or Ghana. But pleasure at the sterling Dutch performance is lessened by the fact that the most stirring sight in world soccer is undoubtedly the silky forward-flowing Brazil in their yellow shirts, blue shorts and white socks – indeed, that they forsook this trademark for the Dutch game was the first bad augury. And Dunga's defensive tactics meant we saw only fleeting flashes of the old attacking style. This is a huge loss to the game. People who celebrate the wonderful Brazil team of 1970 often forget that they conceded seven goals on their way to the championship, something no one's done since. For the 1970 team operated on the principle that goals against didn't really matter, they would always outscore their opponents – and they did. They won all their qualifying matches, all their group games and then all the rest.

The real damage was done in 1982 when Brazil fielded another wonder team, including Falcao, Zico, Socrates, Junior and Eder – and yet they lost to Italy in the second round, Italy who had got through the first round without winning a game and who were all about tight defence. That defeat seems to have scarred Brazil permanently. The team which stands out this year for its free flowing attacking style is Germany and we could well be on our way to a repeat of the 1974 final of Netherlands v. Germany. There are certainly worse fates than that.


  • 3 July 2010 at 12:07pm
    Dave Boyle says:
    There's no need to sympathise with the ref; football doesn't have a power for the ref to give such a thing as a penalty goal. If the ball crossed the line, then it would have been awarded as a goal (though Suarez would still have been sent off most likely) but since it didn't, all the ref could do was award a penalty and dismiss the player. Which he did.

    Totally agree about Brazil in the yellow shirts, blue shorts and white socks. The last World Cup they played wearing them was 1998; since then, they've been wearing blue socks as a matter of choice; there was little forsaking for this game in particular.

    • 3 July 2010 at 1:01pm
      Geoff Roberts says: @ Dave Boyle
      What did you make of Germany's all-black outfit? I thought it looked very sinister.

    • 3 July 2010 at 5:10pm
      A.J.P. Crown says: @ Geoff Roberts
      They might have got away with all-black; but it was black, white and red. They've got no more sense of what to wear than England had, it looked like Argentina were playing the SS.

    • 3 July 2010 at 11:53pm
      pinhut says: @ A.J.P. Crown
      And they were just as ruthless.

    • 4 July 2010 at 7:26am
      Geoff Roberts says: @ A.J.P. Crown
      After yesterday's performance, everybody will expect Germany to go on, destroy Spain and then crush Holland in the Final. But it won't go according to that plan. Germany will lose to Spain, who will show their best and Germany will again be third. Still not bad - better than France, Italy, Brazil, Argentina and yes, England.

    • 4 July 2010 at 8:01am
      seanachie says: @ Dave Boyle
      Brazil still wear white socks (they did in the games against North Korea and Portugal). They only wear blue when a clash of colour with the opposition's socks forces them to change, as per FIFA regulations. It makes it easier on referees and linesmen.

    • 5 July 2010 at 12:31am
      pinhut says: @ Geoff Roberts
      A soothsayer. Be ready to return your crystal Jubilani after the semi-finals.

    • 5 July 2010 at 4:20pm
      Geoff Roberts says: @ Geoff Roberts
      I might be 50% wrong, but then I'd be 50% right as well, wouldn't I. Not bad. Do you want the reasoning? If so, bad luck - it's just gut feel.

  • 4 July 2010 at 7:59am
    seanachie says:
    One has to seriously question Mr Johnson's suitability to be writing a World Cup blog if he thinks such a thing as a 'penalty goal' exists in football.

    Regarding Brazil's blue shirts, they are almost as famous as the yellow ones. Brazil won their first World Cup wearing them in Sweden in 1958 and the shirts have since graced the World Cup in memorable games such as against the Netherlands in 1974 and 1994 and England in 2002. So, no 'bad augury'.

  • 5 July 2010 at 3:09pm
    Tumi says:
    I just wish as many people (especially the cynical) would watch this video:

    • 5 July 2010 at 4:26pm
      Geoff Roberts says: @ Tumi
      I'm a cynic in a small way, but you are right - this is a most moving scene since that goal was stoppoed on the line in the last second of the game and Uraguay went through on penalties. That should never have happened and Ghana are the victims of a system that allows such things to happen. Thanks for the link. I hope that Uraguay will be blown off the park tomorrow.

Read more