A night of penalty shoot-outs

Maswood Alam Khan   | Published: July 02, 2018 21:24:28 | Updated: July 02, 2018 22:13:51

Russian players rejoice victory after goalkeeper Akinfeev saves spot-kicks from Koke and Aspas of Spain.

Well done Russia!  It's great to see the Host Nation win.

We can now brace for this World Cup to unfurl more pleasant surprises and some horrid shocks as the clock is ticking away towards the quarterfinals. This World Cup has been one of the best and the most thrilling so far! Lives of players and fans have been very topsy-turvy, seeing the unpredictable outcomes emerging from Russia during the last few days. Many a bolt out of the blue has already been hurled on the World Cup stadiums. Who could have imagined that Spain, Germany and Argentina would be out of the World Cup at such an early stage? What would happen if now Brazil too should say goodbye!

Russia have exploded a Big Bang by beating Spain, 2010 World Cup winners and the European champion, on Sunday night. They have surpassed expectations by eliminating Spain on penalty kicks, 4-3, after a 1-1 tie smoothening their path to the quarterfinals for the first time in 48 years.

The winning moment was when the Russian goalkeeper, Igor Akinfeev, kicked away Iago Aspas's fifth penalty attempt for Spain. Akinfeev was the hero. So was Dzyuba, who created and then converted the penalty that drew Russia level, sparking delirious celebration in Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.

Their next battle next Saturday in Sochi, where they will play a quarterfinal match against Croatia, will prove whether Russia has come enough of age to proceed further to the semifinals. Croatia won its own penalty-shootout battle on Sunday against Denmark.

Spain miserably failed to live up to anybody's expectations. They looked content with the 1-0 lead, a windfall from Russia's own goal. Going side to side throughout the game and not trying to get into the box, they perhaps thought Russia would tire and then make a big mistake, offering them one more windfall. They, as if, took the match as a training session to measure their pass accuracy. For 10, 15, 20 passes at a stretch, Spain toyed with the ball around the field at will. Russia were also lackadaisical, not eager enough to steal the ball away from the Spaniards. It was one of the boring games we had watched with the unending 1-1 draw; it was a vexing stalemate between two very limited teams.

And then came the dramatic 40th minute when Russia won a corner kick.  Alexander Samedov fired the ball into the box and Dzyuba headed it that touched the hand of Spain's Gerard Piqué who, for some reason, had jumped to challenge Dzyuba with his back turned and one arm over his head.  The Dutch referee, Bjorn Kuipers, awarded penalty and Dzyuba buried the ensuing penalty kick past David De Gea. Dzyuba's goal waked the Russian fans from a torpor and perhaps made them start imagining victories, not one in the Sunday's match. In the final stage of the drama --- in the lottery of penalty kicks --- Russia were blessed to be the winner!

Wow, what a game it was between Croatia and Denmark in the other match! What an amazing drama! Congratulations to Croatia! It was absolutely amazing what we were seeing at midnight between Sunday and Monday! It was a match that ended in stunningly dramatic fashion. It was a fight, almost cinematographic, where we saw the mastery and foolery in penalty shooting and penalty saving at the end of an otherwise dull game. Croatia eventually knocked out dogged Denmark in a nerve-shredding penalty shootouts.

Croatia have proven themselves as one of the few best teams in the World Cup. They play as a cohesive unit. They were deserving winners indeed. Unlucky Denmark!

The first moment of euphoria for Croatian supporters was when they got a glorious chance to shoot a penalty. Alas! Mordic failed. He spurned a chance that comes once in a lifetime. It was a trick of eye Danish goalkeeper Schmeichel played to befool the Croatian captain. Schmeichel was there to save with his midriff. He gave Modric the eyes, Modric slid the ball to Schmeichel's left and the Danish goalkeeper first went one way and then dived the other. The ball was in the corner but Schmeichel could read Mordic and saved the penalty, giving hungry Danish supporters a sumptuous gift and leaving Mordic and the Croatians stunned.

The prized Croatian moments, however, came later as Danijel Subasic, the Croatian goalkeeper, saved three penalties in penalty shootouts.

The penalty spree of last Sunday portends a storm of penalties in the coming matches.

Experts, coaches and supporters have long puzzled over the question of why some goalkeepers are better at stopping penalties than others. Sunday night, however, gave us a glimpse into the mastery of penalty savings some goalkeepers have already earned.

Top goalkeepers like Manuel Neuer or Gianluigi Buffon know the art that has been extracted from science of how and when to decide which corner to dive to in a penalty kick situation.

Those goalkeepers of this World Cup who, like Neuer or Buffon, know the secrecies of how to deal with the shooting ball from 12 yards away and keep their brain cool deserve wins.

A lesson that we learnt after seeing two penalty dramas last night: "The defending goalkeeper must read the body and eye languages of the shooter, remain on the goal line facing the kicker, between the goalposts, pretend, if necessary, some jerks to both right and left, and must not dive a centimeter until the ball has been kicked."


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