Luigi Di Biagio was wiping away tears a half hour after the
misfire. "I'm sorry," he said last Friday, after his penalty
kick had hit the crossbar, sending France past Italy in the
quarterfinals. "This is the worst feeling ever." Such sadness
was nothing new to Italy, which has exited the last three Cups
on penalties. "When you go out this way, you think it's not the
right way to settle a game," said midfielder Roberto Di Matteo.
Yet even in the wake of the horrid '94 final, a scoreless draw
decided by penalties, FIFA has done little to resolve a similar
situation should it unfold in Sunday's championship game. The
most obvious solution would be to keep playing until someone
scores. When asked about that possibility last week, FIFA head
spokesman Keith Cooper looked as if he had swallowed sour milk.
"Impossible," he said. "You would be putting an unbelievable
physical burden on the players. Penalty kicks have to be the
Cooper also strongly disagreed with Italian coach Cesare
Maldini's postgame characterization of penalty kicks as a
lottery. "Penalties still test the three qualities needed in a
footballer: technique, physical conditioning and mental
conditioning," Cooper said.
Nonsense. How would that explain an exquisitely skilled team
like Italy losing on penalty kicks in three consecutive Cups? Or
England going out the same way in two Cups this decade and in
the '96 European championship? Last Friday, Maldini offered what
was surely a better reason. "It seems like we might be cursed,"
Issue date: July 13, 1998