Taker’s Dozen: A Review of the Definitive Book on Penalties

On a hot July day in 1994, Brazil won its fourth World Cup, defeating Italy in a penalty shoot-out. It was twelve yards coverthe first time the World Cup final had been decided on penalties, and FIFA General Secretary Sepp Blatter was appalled. The sight of Italian striker Roberto Baggio, whose goal-scoring heroics had fuelled Italy’s tournament run, sobbing into his hands after he missed the decisive penalty seemed to expose the cruel arbitrariness of tie-breaking shoot-outs. Blatter, who has made a career of spewing grandiose promises that prove impossible to keep, swore that no future final would be decided on penalties. “Football is a collective sport, while penalties are an individual skill,” he said.

In the thorough, well-written and altogether excellent Twelve Yards: The Art and Psychology of the Perfect Penalty, soccer journalist and sports consultant Ben Lyttleton mounts a convincing defense of the procedure Blatter so reviles. “Let’s be honest, we have all watched a match in extra time and hoped for no more goals so we can enjoy the drama of a penalty shoot-out,” Lyttleton writes in his prologue. “It’s the essence of the game, soccer at its most elemental.”

Read the rest of this review on the Howler Magazine blog.


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