Bullets and Penalties
Lindsay Beyerstein on World Cup penalties:
At that level, most of the kicks are going to go into the net.
Someone ought to tell the England team that.
With respect to replays, I don’t think it’s necessarily the case that they’re anti-climactic. In England, the FA Cup Final went to a replay in the case of a draw for many years, and some of the replays (notably the 1981 final) turned out to be extremely memorable games. The tension isn’t necessarily lessened by the extra game. Earlier-round FA Cup ties still go to replays if needed. The World Cup couldn’t support the logistical nightmare of multiple replays, though, obviously.
I think at the heart of the whole penalty kick issue there’s a philosophical problem. They’re not necessarily a bad way to decide a match given that it’s been played for two hours already without a result; but the prospect of penalty kicks casts a long shadow back over the match as it progresses. Play becomes distorted and — typically — overly cautious, in the knowledge that risk mostly isn’t justified when there’s a 50-50 chance at the end of things. There are exceptions: Italy probably wouldn’t have pushed so hard at the end of extra-time in their semi against Germany if Germany weren’t so flawless at the penalty shoot-out: they knew their chances probably weren’t 50-50.
Ideally it would be possible to somehow brainwash the players into not knowing that the penalties are coming, so they’d give their all, with the penalties as a surprise expedient that’s unveiled anew each time only when it’s needed. It’s a bit like the paradox that arises from induction. Say you tell me that you’re going to fire six bullets at me, five of which are blanks, and one of which is live, and you also tell me that I won’t know when the live bullet is coming. Well, if the first five turn out to be blanks, then I know the last bullet must be live, so I’ll know it’s coming. That means that if I’m not to know when the live bullet is coming, it can’t be the last one. However, given that the live bullet can’t be the last one, by induction it also can’t be the second-to-last one: if it was, then after four blanks I’d know the next one was live. And given that it therefore can’t be either of the last two, it also can’t be the third-from-last, and so on. Turns out that if I’m not going to know when the live bullet is coming, it can’t be any of them.
Mutatis bear-with-me-bear-with-me mutandis, the bullet in the final chamber is the analogue of the penalty shoot-out. Its influence is cast by induction backwards over the whole game. Only by not knowing how many bullets there are can we truly not know when the live bullet is coming. Only by not knowing about the penalty shoot-out can open play up to that point be free from its deadening loom. It’s an argument for letting play continue indefinitely until there’s a goal, though I have a feeling the game would end up the same way Quidditch would without Rowling’s hand to guide the narrative: genuinely endless and farcical.