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  • Jacob Sweetman: Dealing with the death penalty


Jacob Sweetman: Dealing with the death penalty

1. FC Union bounced back from another miserable week with a 2-1 win against the highly rated VfL Bochum. It was a hard fought battle, but when the pressure was really on their (often misfiring) strikers kept their heads in a time of crisis.

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Photo courtesy of www.unveu.de

Antonin Panenka took the most famous penalty of all time in the 1976 European Championships finale against Germany in Belgrade. The ever-loveable Bavarian sausage seller Uli Hoeneß had just missed his and Panenka needed to beat Sepp Maier for his country to win their first trophy ever.

He sent Maier the wrong way with a dummy before coolly and calmly chipping the ball into the middle of the goal. The rest is history, and Panenka joined the list of people in football with a move named after them.

Nowadays, it is tried too often. Sure, the feint often works, but the dangers of a keeper spotting it happening, staying put and simply catching the ball are too great. What striker could handle that infamy instead of adoration?

Keepers have devised their own quirks at penalties as well (see Bruce Grobbelaar’s “Shaky Legs“ routine as copied by Jerzy Dudek). Again, both times it worked, but you can be sure there are a million idiots all over the world whose teammates still won’t let them forget the day they tried to do it and just looked stupid.

At the stroke of half time on Saturday, Christian Stuff fell back under the weight of a little tug from VfL Bochum’s Lukas Sinkiewicz. That “Stuffi” is seven centimeters taller and three kilos heavier than the hapless Bochum defender (who almost had a move named after him moments before, as a routine volleyed clearance was sliced horribly and agonisingly past his own back post) mattered little.

The referee had made up his mind. Union’s hard work in the half was to boil down to this. Everyone was looking at Mattuschka, but Silvio had squatted the penalty spot. He was taking it.

What is the perfect penalty then? Actually, just one that goes in. Ninety-nine percent of those that are remembered are the ones that have blazed over the bar. Schoolchildren in England learn on their first day at school that John Aldridge was the first to miss one in the FA Cup Final. Gareth Southgate made a nice career in self-deprecation after his against Germany.

Silvio’s slightly scuffed and a bit too straight penalty against FSV Frankfurt on his debut will not be remembered, but it counted all the same. It snuck in. He scored one in the shoot out against Essen in the cup, but nobody writes home about scoring while your team has been knocked out in the first round by a fourth division team.

He will remember this one. The fans will certainly, and Uwe Neuhaus must have it seared into his retinas. It was the penalty that changed a game against a tough and organised Bochum side, who are now fumbling along when they should be leading a charge for promotion. The penalty justified Union’s hard work in the previous 45 minutes without any luck.

He stuttered in his run up. People breathed in sharply as if to suck the ball into the goal, thinking to themselves: “Oh Christ, don’t try anything clever, Silvio. Just find the corner where the keeper can’t reach it.” But that’s what he did. It was almost perfect.

That they were down 1-0 was made all the worse because of how it happened. Simon Terodde had created a beautiful one-two with Silvio after spinning in from the right. He was free and his shot creeped past the outside of the post. He banged the deck in frustration, but almost as soon as he was back on his feet Inui Takashi had robbed the ball and the lead.

Takashi had been excellent all day. Bochum’s sole attacking threat, he was quick and skillful. Christoph Menz had been trying to keep tabs on him all day, but he squirmed away. Takashi also got booked for a dive, however, on the edge of Union’s penalty area. Kipling would have trouble putting words to it, such was its swallowy flight.

The fans were angry after the loss in Dresden. They saw the failure as a sign that the players have given up. There was no fight. No iron. For Saturday they had all put the arguments and protests aside. They came out en-masse for the team, and the players were going to show them what that meant this time.

Markus Karl, Menz’s replacement, supplied the means to the retort, as well as a flawless long ball to John Jairo Mosquera that delivered the punch line. Bochum had finally started to chase the game, and got caught with a counter punch of the kind that usually happens to Union.

The people trembled as Mosquera bore down on the ball. He had only been on a couple of minutes, and this man who has never been the surest in front of the goal had the hearts of the fans in his pocket. He looked like he’d blown it, but rounded Andreas Luthe surely. Union had won.

Uwe Neuhaus knows better than to get too excited, but his boys delivered what he had asked of them. They had shown fight and guile, balls and determination. Now they are back in the top 10 position as promised.