Is it my imagination, or are penalty kicks getting funkier?
My general impression is that some of the PKs during the knockout round have had some style elements of John Cleese from the Ministry of Silly Walks.
Or maybe Monty Python is on my mind because of their farewell performances this month.
On Saturday, I watched James Rodriguez of Colombia take the penalty kick against Brazil. He advanced a few steps, stopped, dipped his knee like a page in court, and flicked the ball into the net. (His reward was a visit from a giant grasshopper that alighted on his right arm, looking like it could carry him off.)
The Rodriguez dip was not as brazen as the full Panenka performed by Andrea Pirlo in the 2012 Euros against Joe Hart of England. The Panenka is named after the Czechoslovak player, Antonin Panenka, who in 1976 slowed down and nudged the ball airbound for a slow-motion goal that must have taken a second a yard to reach the net.
Panenka thereby gained the rare sporting fame of having a technique named after him, something usually reserved for the innovators of figure skating, for goodness’ sakes.
But others have been dipping and dodging their way toward the disk where the ball rests. Kostas Mitroglou of Greece did a nice little Grambling Marching Band stutter step before deftly kicking a PK in the first round of the shootout, which Greece lost to Costa Rica, eventually.
And Neymar and Cristiano Ronaldo have added a little funky-chicken elbow and knee action to their goal routine.
Technically, says my goalkeeping guru Alan Rubin, a player is supposed to progress toward the disk without diversion. Then again, keepers are supposed to stay behind the line, rather than advance on the kicker (remember Brianna Scurry in the 1999 Women’s World Cup?)
And Tim Krul of the Netherlands seemed to be imitating Muhammad Ali’s nostril-flaring showboat visit to Joe Frazier’s gym back in the day when he came into the match for the shootout against Costa Rica the other.
“I think goalie antics are nothing new,” Duncan Irving, the long-time soccer writer, said in an email message to me. “I saw Holland’s Hans Van Breukelen get up in the grilles, as the kids say, of Danish players at Euro 1992 (the Dutch lost the shootout in the semifinal.) England’s Joe Hart was shouting during Euro 2012 — Pirlo took a Panenka on him “to teach [Hart] a lesson” — and Bruce Grobbelaar (Liverpool) famously performed a jelly-leg goal-line dance against Roma in the 1984 European Cup final.”
I am watching the two semifinals to see if anybody tries a backheel PK after doing the Michael Jackson moon walk. Lifetime fame – or infamy -- awaits.
Welcome to World Cup 2022, the most absurd thing that the routinely absurd world of sports has ever produced.
Those extreme descriptions were what virtually the entire world, save for those who had walked off with bags of cash from Qatar, called the awarding of soccer’s greatest event to the incredibly tiny, incredibly wealthy country back in 2010.
Twelve years ago, many were convinced this event couldn’t possibly happen: staging the world’s biggest sporting event in a country the size of Connecticut, one with zero soccer culture and even less soccer infrastructure? The tournament couldn’t possibly take place in 120-degree heat, and FIFA, the governing body of soccer, most certainly wouldn’t upend football leagues around the world to change the traditional summer schedule, could it?
And, for God’s sake, what about the beer?
Those were just the logistical concerns. The moral concerns are far more distressing. FIFA, so busy paying lip service to equality, couldn’t possibly expect the world to embrace a country where you could go to prison for being gay, where women’s rights are severely curtailed and female victims of sexual assault could go to prison, charged with engaging in extramarital sex. And all those questions came before the global realization that the World Cup was being built on the backs of migrant labor: modern-day slaves held in Qatar with virtually no rights, low wages and no ability to leave. Migrants make up 90% of Qatar’s stated population of 3 million. The country’s native-born equal about 300,000, or roughly the size of Anaheim.
---Ann Killion, columnist for The San Francisco Chronicle.