As AFCON gets to knock out stage, who will pay the penalty?

As AFCON gets to knock out stage, who will pay the penalty?
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Austin Okocha (c) consoles Nwankwo Kanu after his miss in the 2000 Africa Cup of Nations penalty shoot-out.


The group stage of the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations is concluded. Now comes the knock-out stage which gives teams no room for errors.

As they think of taking their teams further in the competition, one thought that will obviously occupy the minds of the 16 team managers will be minimising errors.

If previous editions are any guide, there is one training practice, which will be just as decisive. It is how to strike the ball from 12 yards – the penalty kick!

A celebrated player like Riyad Mahrez could not salvage the game for defending champions, Algeria from the penalty kick spot on Thursday.

Since Didier Drogba lost a vital kick during the penalty shoot-out against Egypt in the final game of the 2006 Africa Cup of Nations, several other celebrated players have equally failed to convert penalty kicks.

 It is a common occurrence even at the summit of world football. Great players, namely, Zico (1986), Maradona (1990), and Roberto Baggio (1994) have fumbled at what appears the cheapest goal to be scored in football. Penalties have become part and parcel of recent tournaments.

 In 1990,  both semi final matches were decided on spot kicks, while the final match itself was prevented from ending up the same way. Ironically, it was still decided by a penalty kick, five minutes from regulation time.

 What was avoided in the 1990 final had to come four years later. Brazil out shot Italy to claim the World Cup title for a fourth time.

At France’98, the hosts had to depend on the lottery of penalty shootout to get off from an hectic quarter final duel with Italy, before eventually winning the trophy on home soil with their ‘multi- national’ squad. The 2006 World Cup final was decided by penalty shoot-out.

From the on-going, it is clear that teams must have learnt to include penalty kick taking in their training schedule. Eight of the last 16 final matches of the Africa Cup  of Nations  were decided on penalties.

That is apart from other knock-out stage duels that were also decided by penalty kicks. Three years ago at Egypt 2019, three of the eight Round of 16 matches were decided by penalty shoot-out.

This serves as a big lesson for any coach dreaming of advancing as penalty kicks will be the tie-breaker.

 Big names in the continent – Nwankwo Kanu, Victor Ikpeba, Samuel Eto’o and Didier Drogba among others – have missed from the penalty spot during tie-breakers.

Nwankwo Kanu lamenting his penalty kick miss at the Africa Cup of Nations final match in 2000

In Nigeria’s march to victory in 1994, penalty kicks played crucial roles. The Super Eagles had to survive the ordeal of penalty shoot-out with Cote d’Ivoire in the semi finals.

It is on record that penalty kicks played crucial roles in shaping Nigeria’s destiny in 2010, 2006, 2004, 2002, 2000, 1994, 1988 and 1984. A total of eight in Nigeria’s last 12 appearances at the finals.

This should be instructive to Austin Eguavoen to include penalty kicks in his daily training schedule.

In 1984, Nigeria survived a lengthy penalty shoot-out against Egypt in the semi final, after scoring a goal from the penalty spot during regulation time. In 1988, it was the same tale, this time against Algeria in the semi finals. A penalty kick award to Cameroon eventually decided Nigeria’s fate in the Maroc’88 final.

Apart from 2000 in Lagos when Cameroon lifted the trophy through a penalty shoot –out, loss of a penalty in the extra time against Senegal decided the Super Eagles fate in the 2002 semi finals. Nigeria again crashed out of 2004 finals via penalty shoot out!

In two of Nigeria’s three World Cup appearances, penalty kicks were largely responsible for Nigeria’s elimination.

Roberto Baggio’s conversion of penalty kick in the extra time of a Round of 16 tie enabled Italy to eliminate Nigeria from USA’94.

At 2002 World Cup, the 63rd minute penalty kick converted by Henrik Larssson for Sweden, in Nigeria’s second match, technically knocked out the Super Eagles from the World Cup.

  Penalty kicks also proved decisive for other African teams in the African Nations Cup. Cameroon, Tunisia and Cote d’Ivoire lost vital matches via penalty shoot-out at 2006 African Nation Cup finals.

The keepers who saved the kicks were the heroes, while the outfield players whose kicks missed the targets were the villains. It is obvious that those dramas will once more unfold at Ghana 2008.

But who will be jumping and which player will bent double in tears? Italy’s Antonio Cabrini wrote his name into the World Cup record books as the first player to miss a penalty in the final. He looked dejected after his 25th minute spot kick went wide.

 Penalty kicks, especially the shoot-outs, are made for television. They are fast, exciting while being a fairer means of tie-breaking than the toss of a coin.

But the Italians will not like to believe this after the Azzuris lost the USA’94 World Cup final through penalty shoot-out and had gone out through the same process at home in the Italia’90 World Cup semi final.

They again crashed out of France’98 through penalty kicks. But for the extra time goal with which the Koreans defeated them in 2002 in the Round of 16, one will have to go back 20 years (Mexico’86) to get the last time the Italians lost a knock-out match in the World Cup without resorting to penalties.

 Their prayers were answered at Germany 2006 when they beat France in the final via penalty shoot-out. It is only ones prayer that Austin Eguavoen add penalty kick session to the training of the Super Eagles in Garoua.

Litany of penalty kicks at the Africa Cup of Nations Cup finals

  • 2019 – Three matches were decided by penalty shootout. These are: Morocco vs Benin (Round of 16), Ghana vs Tunisia (Round of 16) and quarter-finals involving Cote d’Ivoire and Algeria
  • 2017 – The quarter-finals of  Senegal and Cameroon as well as the semi-finals of Burkina Faso and Egypt were decided by penalties.
  • 2015 – Both the final match and the third place duel were decided by penalty shootout.
  • 2013 – Quarter final of South Africa and Mali decided by penalties.
  • 2012 – Mali vs Gabon quarter final match decided by penalty shoot-out. Also, the final match of Zambia and Cote d’Ivoire.
  • 2010 – Nigeria vs Zambia quarter final match decided by penalty shoot-out.
  • 2006 – Nigeria involved in penalty shoot-out in the quarter finals. Final match Egypt and Cote d’Ivoire also decided by penalties.
  • 2004 – Penalty shoot-out decided Nigeria’s fate in the semi finals.
  • 2002 – Penalty loss against Senegal in the semi-finals decided Nigeria’s fate. Final match of Cameroon and Senegal decided by penalties.
  • 2000 – Penalty shoot-out decided Nigeria’s fate and the final match.
  • 1994 – Penalty shoot-out played crucial role in Nigeria’s march to the final.
  • 1992 – Penalty shoot-out decided the final match of Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire.
  • 1988 – Penalty shoot-out propelled Nigeria to the final. Penalty for Cameroon decided Nigeria’s fate in the final.
  • 1986 – Penalty shoot-out decided the final match of Egypt and Cameroon.
  • 1984 – Penalty shoot-out took Nigeria to the final.
  • 1982 – Penalty shoot-out decided the final match of Ghana and Libya.

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