That unmistakeable feeling of a penalty shoot-out
It had already turned 23:29 by the time Juanfran swung the tie in Atlético’s favour. 180+30 minutes of football had elapsed without any sign of a goal and then clinical finishing took hold of the penalty shoot-out. That was until the eighth man up for the Dutch side, Narsingh, hit his shot off the crossbar. Juanfran stepped up to take the corresponding spot kick. As he was walking towards the ball I thought about how difficult it must be to deal with that type of situation. Those fifty yards between the centre circle and the penalty spot, the seemingly small goal frame, the huge goalkeeper and knowing that the tie hangs in the balance. And along with that the season: to be or not to be, to progress or to go crashing out. Fate in its purest form.
Juanfran dispatched his effort from the twelve-yard spot with the serenity of a great player. Penalties are not exactly the true mark of technical prowess, although some technical ability is required. Above all else they are a test of confidence. Juanfran had that in spades. The defender stuck around for the second round of penalties, after watching the team’s strongest finishers put away the initial five. The footballing roulette bestowed upon him the final responsibility, the shot that could wrap things up or keep them going for a subsequent roll of the dice. He struck low and hard and got his reward. When the penalty shoot-out got underway, everyone thought Oblak was the most likely candidate to provide the heroics. But that wasn't the case. The Slovenian got close to a few balls but didn't keep any out. The hero of the night was Juanfran.
I like penalty shoot-outs. People say they're a lottery but that's only partially true. There is something quintessentially football about this method of deciding a game, which was conceived in Cádiz so as to avoid a coin toss to determine the winner of the Ramón de Carranza Trophy. The coolness of the taker, the reflexes of the stopper, the guess work, the stolen glances... That long, slow walk up to the ball, the penalty spot, the ultimate challenge. Whatever happens next is inescapable. It’s hardly surprising that viewing figures often shoot up during shoot-outs. I like that. And when they end well, as was the case last night, then all the better.
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