Tuesday, July 04, 2006

"You've got a lot to answer for..."

Karl Wald may appear a harmless elderly gent, but he only happens to be the devilish brains behind the dreaded penalty shoot-out.
And yes, he is German.
Yet in a nation which so prides itself on penalty expertise, Karl's profile has remained about as low as a Beckham corner failing miserably to beat the first man.
It was he, then a humble Bavarian referee at a local conference in 1970, who first suggested using a shoot-out to settle drawn matches.
Bavarian officials accepted the idea, the solution soon spread across German leagues, and eventually Uefa and Fifa were persuaded.
Yet Karl’s role in footballing history – and heartbreak – has gone unnoticed.
Until now.
He has finally emerged from the shoot-out shadows after his homeland celebrated yet another spot-kick success, this time on home turf.
Karl, now 90 and a referee since 1936, is unapologetic - despite the incessant despair, and Pizza Hut adverts, he has helped inflict on the English.
He insisted: ‘I always believed I was right.
‘It’s the only way in which a result can be achieved fairly. Everything else was not really a solution.’
He may just have a point there.
The previous system, involving a tossed coin or coloured disc, left even more to chance.
A wrong call knocked Yugoslavia out of the 1968 European Championships after a semi-final stalemate against Italy.
Former Liverpool manager Bill Shankly once went typically apoplectic to discover captain Ron Yeats was denied a choice of head or tails after a Fairs Cup draw with Cologne in 1968
The referee presented a disc with Liverpool red on one side and Cologne white on the other.
Affter the spin went against his side, Shankly angrily insisted on his right to call white if he wanted – to no avail.
Of course, Liverpool went on to benefit from the spot-kick system in last year’s epic Champions League triumph over Milan.
So perhaps, rather than condemning Karl, English fans should grudgingly accept his belated moment of fame.
After all, if our cricket captains’ coin-tossing luck is anything to go by, these 40 years of footballing hurt could have been equally excruciating either way.

Of course, meine Damen und Herren, it only works if you manage to see out 120 minutes without conceding, not a mere 119...

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