Penalties – the ‘new’ normal

By Etta McEwan

Penalties bring about three things, controversy, criticism, and conversation.

And after week one of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, the penalty count is mounting, unlike anything seen in the tournament’s recent history.

An analysis has shown that after the first round of matches in Russia 2018, nine penalties were awarded in 16 matches.

It’s an average of 0.56 penalties per match and the highest rate since the 1966 World Cup in England more than 50 years ago.

In comparison, a breakdown of the tournaments from France 1998 through to Brazil 2014 shows how infrequently spot-kicks were awarded.

France 199810 penalties (0.16/match); 10 scored

Japan/South Korea 200214 penalties (0.22/match); 8 scored

Germany 20065 penalties (0.08/match); 5 scored

South Africa 201014 penalties (0.22/match); 9 scored

Brazil 201413 penalties (0.20/match); 12 scored

Russia 20189 penalties in 16 matches (0.56/match); 7 scored

*64 matches played in all tournaments

Apart from a 2006 outlier of 0.08 penalties awarded across 64 games, the fluctuation of penalties has been minimal. That’s until Russia 2018.

Influential in the inflated figure for this tournament is the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system which is being used for the first time at the World Cup.

Of the nine penalties awarded after matchday one games in Russia, four involved the VAR.

The inaugural appearance of the VAR at the World Cup has caused controversy and conversation. And the debate around technology-assisted penalty decisions is likely to continue well beyond the tournament.

The Socceroos’ connection with VAR will be forever etched in history after Josh Risdon’s tangle with French striker Antoine Griezmann resulted in the first-ever World Cup penalty awarded by VAR.

So, more penalties might be the new ‘normal’ at World Cups.

It’s too early to say whether VAR is having an undue influence on results and after the Risdon incident, the jury still is out.

But if the technology is leading to more correct decisions, then players and fans alike can have no complaints.

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