NZME's award winning* football blog Goalmouth Scramble is back. Our rotating stable of football writers will offer daily hot takes on all the action from the World Cup in Russia. Today, Chris Rattue looks ahead to the introduction of death strikes.
Yes. We're close to the best part of any World Cup. Penalty shootouts.
The agony, the ecstasy. Have to confess, and this is difficult, but the reality of these particular football dramas even beats the very best Kardashian episodes for my money.
Because this is where men who earn more in a week than a newsreader gets in a year can kick the ball like they are playing in an over-50s competition.
Talk about feet of clay. Already, the two best players in the world — Ronaldo and Messi — have missed penalties in the World Cup group stage.
Messi and Ronaldo are so famous, so brilliant, that they are known as simply Messi and Ronaldo.
But stick the ball on a white spot 10.97 metres from goal, or 12 yards in the old currency, and all that talent and practice can still fly out the window, or might even miss the window.
Both nail penalties at around the 80 per cent mark, according to best available figures. Yet Ronaldo, so confident in most walks of life, gets the wobbles for Portugal, and has fluffed six out of 17 for his country. (But you try getting the ball off him when the ref points to the spot)
Penalty shooting is such a head game. Analysis of penalties taken in the German Bundesliga over a 40 year period found the only significant predictor of failure was home disadvantage.
Yes, home teams miss more than visiting teams, something attributed to PRESSURE. And these are German players we are talking about, men who have fashioned the finest shootout record in World Cup history.
Shootouts are a vital part of the game, being used in the knockout phase to separate teams still level after extra time.
England have a terrible reputation in penalty shootouts at major tournaments, but here's the funny thing. Perhaps the best penalty take of all time was an English bloke — Matthew Le Tissier.
When it comes to taking penalties, he should be known simply as Le Tissier. The Southampton wizard was almost unstoppable from the spot, nailing 48 out of 49.
"I stuck it in the corner, and if the keeper went the right way it was hard enough to beat him," he said, explaining the technique. Sounds simple enough.
Another spot master, Ivan Krstanovic of Croatia, wasn't so forthcoming.
"Everyone keeps asking me to reveal my secret but, if I told everyone my technique it wouldn't be a secret any more, would it?," he once said.
Back to England.
No football yarn can be contemplated these days without mentioning Kane.
That's Harry Kane, the super striker who smacked in two excellent penalties against Panama. But he's more Harry Kane than Kane from the spot overall, having missed six out of 29 in his career for club and country, although only one from 10 in the past 18 months.
The trouble is, penalty shootouts are a team game, and some teams are good at them and some aren't. (The results also tend to lead to all sorts of crazy assumptions about national characteristics and the like)
Argentina has endured more World Cup penalty shoot outs than any other nation, winning four out of five.
Germany are running at four out of four. England and Italy have the worst record, with three shootout defeats. Italy have won and lost actual World Cup finals on penalty shootouts. England have never won a World Cup shootout.
Within these team situations lie personal and even heart wrenching stories, and none more so than the one involving Italian star Roberto Baggio.
His miss handed Brazil the trophy in 1994, the first final decided this way. The thing is, two other Italian players had already missed, but people don't seem to remember that.
In his autobiography (and thanks to the Observer for this extract): Baggio reckoned: "Before I left for the finals my Buddhist spiritual master told me that I would be confronted with a lot of problems and that everything would be decided at the very last minute. At the time I didn't realise his prediction would be so accurate.
"When I went up to the spot I was pretty lucid, as much as one can be in that kind of situation. Unfortunately, and I don't know how, the ball went up three metres and flew over the crossbar.
"I was knackered, but I was the team's penalty taker. I've never run away from my responsibilities...it affected me for years. It the worst moment of my career. I still dream about it. If I could erase a moment from my career, it would be that one."
He added: "Is it right that four years of sacrifice are decided by three minutes of penalties? I don't think so."
That tournament started in a very odd way, when a staged penalty by opening act Diana Ross backfired. The singer missed the target, but the goal collapsed on cue anyway. Ooops.
Luckily for Ross her shot was upstaged by poor Baggio who had driven Italy into the final, despite those words from his Buddhist master nagging away.
This is not to knock a Buddhist leader, far from it, but this particular chap could probably have brushed up on sports psychology before packing Baggio off to the US of A. Moving on...
The final was rubbish, so when Baggio drove the ball like he was swinging a nine iron, the game came alive forever. It was all very unfair and incredibly dramatic.
Penalty shootouts? Bring them on (sorry England).
Previously, on Goalmouth Scramble:
Niall Anderson: So, uh, which of these World Cup teams are actually good?
Steven Holloway: Funbag: Messi and World Cup conspiracy theories
Michael Burgess: Why I'm missing Sepp Blatter
Cam McMillan: The far too early second round projections
David Leggat: A few things you need to know about the World Cup
Damien Venuto: Messi - The Argentinean Andrew Mehrtens?
Cam McMillan: Why Brazil will (and won't) win the World Cup
Niall Anderson: The best (and worst) games to watch
Chris Rattue: Funny footballs and goalkeepers
Chris Rattue: The big World Cup questions
Steven Holloway: Fancy a punt? The World Cup's best bets