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STINSON: Hopefully, Canada has learned its World Cup penalty lesson

STINSON: Hopefully, Canada has learned its World Cup penalty lesson


By now, it seems clear that there will never really be a full explanation offered for why Alphonso Davies took that unfortunate penalty kick in Canada’s World Cup opener.

The team’s coach and various players, Davies included, have given non-answers to the question, but we have learned that the team does not have a designated kick taker.

Once the penalty had been given against Belgium, Davies took the initiative and grabbed the ball. He’s the team’s biggest star by some distance, and no one on the pitch pointed out that maybe, perhaps, erm, he wasn’t, as someone who doesn’t perform that role for his club and who is not known for his shooting, the best choice for the job.

None of that would have mattered had Davies made a good attempt and, if Canada should have another attempt from the spot against Croatia on Sunday, let us hope that the team collectively learned that crucial lesson: Whoever takes it, smash the kick hard.

It is one of the quirks of soccer that the simple task of kicking the ball into a very large goal from close range is sometimes made to look terribly difficult by certain players. But at least there have already been examples of the correct strategy. Gareth Bale of Wales and Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo have each taken penalty kicks and absolutely leathered them — high, strong, and near impossible to stop.

Watch and learn, fellas.

FAVORITES IN DIFFERENT PLACES

If there is an over-arching story of the first round of games in Qatar, it’s how different the mood is around some of the tournament’s biggest favorites after just one game. Brazil played a little indifferently for a half against a strong Serbian team, but ended up winning easily and showed its embarrassment of attacking talent. It now looks, despite some injury concerns, likely to cruise out of the group stage. Its rival Argentina, meanwhile, is in crisis after a shocking loss to Saudi Arabia. A four-year process, a 36-match unbeaten run, and the whole thing comes undone in 90 minutes. It at least has company in this regard in their fellow finalists from the 2014 World Cup, after Germany botched its opener against Japan this time out. Germany’s loss was more sudden, with the Japanese striking for two late goals to erase a first-half penalty kick. The Germans are also in an even trickier spot than Argentina because they now have to play Spain in what is close to a must-win game. All Spain did in their opener was win 7-0 over Costa Rica. Germany’s Hansi Flick, who took over the national program after a triumphant run at Bayern Munich, now faces the prospect of certain doom after his World Cup debut has just begun. No pressure, coach.

VAR HAS ITS SAY IN QATAR

It was always going to be a story, unfortunately, but the Video Assistant Referee system, generally known as VAR, also known as the bane of soccer’s existence, did not take long to spoil the festivities. The latest example came Friday, when Senegal forward Ismaila Sarr, charging back towards his goal, bundled over Qatar forward Akram Afif as he possessed the ball in the goalkeeper’s area. It might have been hard for the referee to spot in real time, with everyone in a full sprint, but it was a dead obvious penalty on replay, which is supposed to be the whole point of the VAR system. None was given, though, and the referee wasn’t even asked to give it a look on the pitch-side monitor. The prevailing theory is that the officials thought Afif was trying to draw the contact rather than make an attempt on goal. Which is why VAR drives everyone nuts. It’s supposed to offer objectivity: Here is clear video evidence of what happened. Instead it provides a different layer of subjectivity, with officials in the booth making their own judgment calls on the incidents that the referee has already judged. In this case, Afif’s intent, which no one could know anyway, was immaterial: The man was run over in the box. Instead of a great chance for a 1-0 lead, Qatar was denied and eventually lost 3-1. There has been a lot of talk about Qatar’s lack of soccer experience in recent days, but it is earning it quickly. They’ve now been inexplicably screwed by VAR, just like a big soccer country.

WORKING OVERTIME

The other constant of this World Cup has been the hilariously long amounts of injury time added at the end of each half, where the usual two to four minutes has become eight, nine or longer in Qatar. There’s some logic to it, as studies have long shown that referees tend to underestimate the amount of time lost to injuries, substitutions and general hijinks, but it’s bizarre that FIFA has chosen this stage to finally be fussy about it. The teams, and especially the coaches, clearly are unfamiliar with having such long periods added — especially when this wasn’t done during the many months of regional qualifiers leading up to the tournament. It would be not unlike the NHL calling the rules the usual way for the Stanley Cup playoffs and then calling them differently in the final. Other than leaving a lot of players visibly exhausted, the change hadn’t made a big difference until Friday, when Iran scored twice late — in the eighth and 11

th


minutes of stoppage time — to beat Wales. That’s really quite late.

Postmedia’s soccer expert Derek Van Diest is on the ground in Qatar to cover every kickoff of the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Subscribe today and get access to all his coverage.

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2022





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