Shoot-outs turn 50: 12 yards, 10 takers and one big drama

By Jordan Raza, dpa
Victory or defeat in football sometimes comes down to a single penalty scored or missed. The drama of shoot-outs is almost unmatched in the game even 50 years after they were invented.

Berlin (dpa) – Whether the 1982 World Cup drama against France, the nerve-shredding home duel with Argentina in 2006 or most recently against Italy at Euro 2016, Germany often emerge on top in penalty shoot-outs.

Perhaps it is no wonder the Germans are so clinical from the spot – the high-wire, sink or swim, do or die method for deciding the outcome of knock-out matches was approved 50 years ago after being invented by Karl Wald of Penzberg, Bavaria.

The former amateur referee died aged 95 in 2011 but his creation lives on. Wald’s method of settling scores from the spot in the 1960s revolutionized football.

Previously games level after 90 minutes would go into extra-time and teams which still could not be separated would decide who advanced and who went home by tossing a coin or drawing lots.

“That is sporting fraud, that is pure nonsense,” trained hairdresser Wald, born in 1916 in Frankfurt, said.

Instead he came up with an alternative and tested it out secretly in his home state with friendly matches.

“That was already riding the cannonball a bit for him, not totally safe,” Wald’s grandson Thorsten Schacht said.

Wald was concerned that someone from the governing German Football Federation (DFB) would discover his experiment. “That would have meant his refereeing licence was gone,” said Schacht.

But fans were impressed with the new rule.

“The people want to see the ball in the net,” said Wald.

Spectators crowded round the penalty box and experienced the highs and lows of the shoot-out, celebrating with the winners and commiserating with the losers, Schacht remembered his grandfather telling him.

Wald, however, soon met resistance to his scheme. The leadership of his local Bavarian football association wanted to block his suggestion at its congress in 1970.

“My comrades, I ask you, give this proposal the green light on the motto that success justifies everything, thank you,” Wald appealed to delegates. The majority gave him his breakthrough on May 30 – 50 years ago.

Soon after the DFB and then European (UEFA) and world (FIFA) governing bodies put the idea into practice for settling matches.

The first major tournament decided from the penalty spot was the 1976 European Championship when Germany’s Uli Hoeness blasted high into the Belgrade sky. Czechoslovakia’s Antonin Panenka then scored the winner, writing his own name into history with a delicate chip down the middle of the goal.

Since that first loss, Germany have done Wald proud from the spot with the World Cup semi-final in 1990 and semi-final of Euro 96 against England also going their way.

Bayern Munich lifted a Champions League against Valencia on penalties in 2001 but 11 years later suffered agony at home to Chelsea, whose defensive path to the shoot-out replicated Red Star Belgrade blocking Marseille in 1991.

Wald himself followed ‘his’ shoot-out dramas quite calmly from in front of the television. And whoever won, he could feel satisfied.

“I always had the feeling that I was right,” he once said. Proof is the use of his method, across the globe and in virtually every competition, even today.

In Penzberg they have honoured one of their most famous sons. The road of the stadium was renamed as Karl-Wald-Strasse (Karl Wald Street) in 2014 – the same year Germany won the World Cup against Argentina, albeit in extra-time and not on penalties.

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