FIFA president, Sepp Blatter, has said that he is considering scrapping draws in the group stages of future World Cups. Under these new proposals, all group matches that end in a draw after 90 minutes will go straight to penalties, assuring a winner in every match.
Now I’m not Blatter’s biggest fan, but I’m going to have to side with him on this one. During the World Cup in South Africa we saw the fear of losing outweighing the will to win. Managers would quite happily settle for a draw in their opening or last group game if that is all that was needed.
In the 48 group matches in South Africa there were 14 draws (29% of matches). Of these 14 draws there were: six 0-0s, six 1-1s and two 2-2s.
2006 saw just 11 group games ending all square, 2002 had 14 draws (but Uruguay came from 0-3 down to draw 3-3 with Senegal) and 1998 saw 16 draws. Just think, with penalties at the end of these matches some teams that didn’t advance form their groups may have done so with the extra points.
FIFA do already use a similar no draws rule in the Beach Soccer World Cup. If a group game ends with the scores the same after the full-time whistle both teams play a period of extra-time, and if the scores are still tied they play a sudden-death penalty shoot-out. The winner is awarded two points instead of three and everybody except the losing team goes home happy.
This wouldn’t be first time that FIFA have played about the group stages in the World Cup. There most recognisable piece of tinkering came in Switzerland ’54. Each group consisted of four teams – two seeded and two non-seeded. But the two seeds didn’t play each other and neither did the two non-seeds, meaning each country only played two group games instead of the normal three. Also, any of these games ending level after 90 minutes were followed by 30 minutes of extra-time. Only then if the scores remained level did each side take away a point. This actually happened in the England vs. Belgium game in the 1954 World Cup. The score at the end of normal time was 3-3, and the match ended 4-4.
As I’ve said earlier, I’m all for the idea of penalties at the end of a drawn group match because the fans don’t want to watch a dull 0-0 – Brazil vs. Portugal for example, and because the law of averages states that England will win on penalties again eventually.
But what I am not a fan of is Blatter’s plan of bringing back the awful ‘Golden Goal’. This rule states that the first goal in extra-time wins the match for the scoring team. But could you imagine the outcry if the ‘Golden Goal’ rule had been used in the 1966 Final? Geoff Hurst’s crossbar goal would have won the World Cup, and we never would have heard those immortal words from commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme: “And here comes Hurst. He’s got… some people are on the pitch, they think it’s all over. It is now! It’s four!”
We also would have not witnessed what has been dubbed: ‘The Game of the Century’. This was a 1970 World Cup Semi-Final between Italy and West Germany at the Azteca Stadium (Mexico City) in front of a crowd of 102,444 people. Italy took the lead after just eight minutes, and West Germany equalized in injury-time at the end of the second half. West Germany then took the lead in the 94th minute and the win if the match had the ‘Golden Goal’ rule. But Italy scored on 98 and 104 minutes to take a 3-2 lead, only for West Germany to score in the 110th minute to make it 3-3. But Italy scored just a minute later whilst the TV cameras still showed replays of West Germany’s third goal. Italy won the ‘Game of the Century’ 4-3 after extra-time.
So, to sum up. It’s a ‘yes’ for no more draws in the group stages, but a ‘no’ for the return of the ‘Golden Goal’.