Can We Really Fault Bento For Portugal’s Loss?

06.28.12 6 years ago 15 Comments

As citizens of a democratic nation, we’re entitled to our opinions—as sports fans, even more so. Here at The Smoking Section we’ve posited our fair share of athletic theories, and there’s certain panache to clearly articulating what should or should not have happened in any given game.

So let’s bring up Portugal’s recent penalty kick loss to Spain in the Euro 2012 semifinals. Since neither Iberian side could muster enough attacking flair in regular time, spot kicks provided the necessary ends. From the corners of the Inter-webs, it seems that the over-arching takeaway from the match wasn’t Spain’s entering its third consecutive major final, but Portugal manager Paulo Bento’s saving Cristiano Ronaldo’s PK for last—which Ronaldo never got to take.

Apparently, the couch-potato punditry feels aggrieved by this misuse. Among the many scathing critiques, here’s Bleacher Report’s final paragraph from their synopsis: “Not putting Ronaldo out for the first penalty was poor judgement. Keeping him away altogether during penalty kicks was inexcusable.”

To each their own, I suppose. However, it’s hard to completely fault Bento if you could fault him at all. Penalty kicks are a unique breed of settling games and for anyone who’s actually played the game it comes down to this: you either score or you don’t. What critics of the Bento decision are missing is there’s no inherent strategy to shootouts. Just don’t fucking miss.

True, it’s probably best to have a goal-poaching forward or midfielder take one of your team’s five (as opposed to a central defender.) However that still doesn’t guarantee success.* Even if Ronaldo would have gone first that still doesn’t mean that a) he would’ve converted and b) Joao Moutinho and Bruno Alves wouldn’t have missed.

It’s easy to point fingers and even easier to hop on an argumentative angle to fill column space. And there are surely some great reasons why Ronaldo should’ve been the first to line up at the 12-yard spot. But make no mistake: it’s never as black and white as it appears.

* – David Beckham, a man known for his consistency in dead-ball situations, offered up this field goal in a 2004 Euro quarterfinal against Portugal. Then again, it was England in a penalty shootout in a major tournament. And we all know that England plays penalty shootouts like the Buffalo Bills play Super Bowls.

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