We had heard all about how good the Germans
were are at converting penalties, but as Die Mannschaft prepared for a shootout with rivals Argentina in an epic 2006 Fifa World Cup quarter-final meeting, goalkeeper Jens Lehmann highlighted – in his own peculiar way – a strength Germany rarely gets credit for in the conversation about spot-kicks.
On a sheet of paper with a hotel’s letterhead, he had penned the names of seven Argentine players, along with notes on how they would likely take their kicks. Of the lot, only two — Roberto Ayala and Maxi Rodriguez — did feature, and Lehmann saved the former’s shot; of the other two penalties taken by Argentina, he kept out another — from poor Esteban Cambiasso — without much help this time from his handy slip, but that’s a story for another day.
Lehmann’s now-famous tactic might have been unconventional — eccentric, even — but it did teach a big lesson about penalties: saving them is as important as scoring them, and thus cannot be left to chance.
It’s a point Ghanaians haven’t really gleaned, however, despite suffering many a shootout heartbreak over the years. Perhaps we’ve realized, now — after our national teams lost on penalties four times this year — more than ever, the need to pay greater attention to taking penalties better, but the nationwide discourse regarding the subject hasn’t placed much emphasis on the role of our goalkeepers in achieving the desired results.
Why not, though?
Just nine of the 15 penalties — from 66 taken — other teams have missed against Ghana at various levels in a dozen shootouts since 2010 have actually been saved, and only twice have Ghanaian goalkeepers – Stephen Adams (vs. Libya at CHAN 2014) and Eric Ofori-Antwi (vs. Burkina Faso at the 2019 WAFU Cup) — blocked more than one kick. In five — nearly half — of those 12 occasions, not a single save was made.
Take some time and visit YouTube, beloved, and observe for yourself some of those penalties: from not moving at all to leaping in any direction at all, Ghana’s goalkeepers don’t seem to run out of ways not to save a penalty. Of course, most glovesmen — unlike Lehmann, at least in the episode mentioned at the outset — resort to guesswork when faced with penalties, but there is usually a method — not madness or utter motionlessness — to it; just ask the very best. Penalties have often been described as ‘psychological warfare’, stressing the need to carry proper strategy into such tense situations — in the mind or, if need be, on a sheet.
As a nation, we’ve probably been taking a narrow view of the problem all along, not charging goalkeepers with enough responsibility during penalties. Granted, the burden of pressure and/or blame is typically borne by the taker, as a poorly struck penalty is often more obvious than a poor attempt to keep one out, but the guy at the other end has as big a chance — if not bigger, in fact — of being a
villain hero, too.
But will he step up?
NY Frimpong — Daily Mail GH