Monday, Sep 26, 2022

A ‘Messi’ Business: Ten Legends (and one) who missed penalty kicks in the World Cup

A look at ten other players, apart from Lionel Messi, who were stars in their own right but came undone at the penalty spot in the World Cup.

FIFA World Cup 2018 Argentina’s Lionel Messi missed a penalty against Iceland in World Cup 2018. (Source: Reuters)

The football world was stunned when Lionel Messi, a player who many believe is one of the best players of all time, missed a crucial penalty kick against Iceland in the World Cup. In popular perception, a penalty kick (also called a spot kick) is a bit of a “gimme” with the player having to beat a goalkeeper from a short distance with no defenders to worry about. A player as good as Messi should have logically put the penalty away. But logic often goes for a walk when it comes to penalty kicks. Blame it on nerves, skill or just good old luck, many is the football legend who has messed matters up from the penalty spot in the World Cup. Messi is actually in very good company. If you find that difficult to believe, here’s a look at ten other players (and one more) who were stars in their own right but came undone at the penalty spot in the World Cup:

Diego Maradona
Argentina vs Yugoslavia 1990

Yes, the one many consider to be the greatest of all time missed a penalty kick on the biggest stage of world football. When the match between Argentina and Yugoslavia went down to penalties, Maradona – a dead ball expert and football legend – was obviously one of those chosen for Argentina. Horror of horrors, his effort was easily saved. Argentina ultimately won, which is perhaps not too many remember Maradona’s miss.

Asamoah Gyan
Ghana vs Uruguay 2010

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In terms of importance, this is perhaps the biggest penalty miss in World Cup history. Ghana were playing Uruguay in the quarter final of the 2010 World Cup and the match went into extra time. In literally the last minute of extra time, Ghana got a penalty when Luis Suarez handled the ball on the goal line to stop the ball from going in. Gyan, easily the best player in the Ghana team and scorer of a winner in extra time against the US in the previous match, was the country’s designated penalty specialist – he had converted two penalties in the tournament already. He now had the chance to take Ghana into the semifinals – a place where no African team had ever gone – with literally the last kick of the match. He hit the frame. Uruguay won the penalty shoot out that followed. Gyan would later take a break from international football when he missed another penalty in a crucial match (in the African Nations Cup) but returned in 2014 to become Africa’s highest scorer in the World Cup. Character!

Antonio Cabrini
Italy vs West Germany 1982

They do not come much bigger than penalties awarded in a World Cup final! Italy and West Germany were locked in a tight, tense tussle in the final of the 1982 World Cup when the Azzuri got a penalty. Up stepped defender Antonio Cabrini, a promising player who would retire with more goals than any Italian defender a few years later (and would also captain Italy in 1986). And with the world watching, he send the ball wide! Italy recovered to win the match and the tournament 3-1, which is why not too many recall his rare moment of fallibility.

Roberto Baggio
Italy vs Brazil 1994

For many, this remains perhaps THE biggest penalty miss of them all. Italy and Brazil had played out arguably the dullest World Cup final of all time, and in the end it came down to penalties. Brazil were one ahead and it was up to Italy’s best player of the tournament – and one of the best of all time – to score from the spot to level things. He sent the ball ballooning into space. Brazil won the World Cup.

Franco Baresi
Italy vs Brazil 1994

Yes, everyone remembers the miss by Roberto Baggio which ended the match, but no less significant was the miss by perhaps the greatest defender of his generation. Baresi had missed most of the tournament by injury, and had somehow made the final and played exceptionally well. He was known for his composure in the penalty area. Surely Italy were in safe hands when he stepped up to take a penalty in the shoot out. They weren’t.

Brazil vs France 1986

He was the best player in the world in 1982. And while considerably older and slower in 1986, was still a formidable proposition coming off the bench. For many people, he remained one of the best midfielders around. So when he stepped up to take the penalty with the scores tied at 1-1, most people were expecting to see the score read 2-1 a few seconds later. Joel Bats in the French goal had other ideas. Zico’s miss was to prove crucial, as the match remained tied and went to a penalty shoot out. Brazil lost, even though Zico did score in the shoot out. An era came too an end.

Brazil vs France 1986


If Zico was the greatest musician of the opera that was the Brazilian midfield of the early eighties, Socrates was its most efficient one. Tall, statuesque and unflappable, he had the knack of simply doing what was needed without any fuss whatsoever. In the previous match, he had arguably taken the best penalty ever in World Cup history when he had scored against Poland with virtually a two step run up. Who could be better to take Brazil’s opening penalty in the tie-breaker against France, especially after Zico had missed one in regulation time? The writing was well and truly on the wall when Socrates once again took a short run up, and then had his penalty saved!

Michel Platini
France vs Brazil 1986

Yes, THAT match again. This quarter-final was ordained to make football gods mortal from the penalty spot. Unquestionably the best player in the world coming into the tournament (yes, many considered him better than Maradona at that time), French captain and legend Michel Platini was a dead ball expert who had scored the winning penalty in the European Cup and had also scored in regulation time in this match. Surely he would succeed where Zico and Socrates had failed? He sent the ball well over the goal, joining their ranks. France did win, though.

Hugo Sanchez
Mexico vs Paraguay 1986

He was considered one of the best strikers in the world – a legend at Real Madrid and easily Mexico’s greatest player of all time. So when he stepped up to take a penalty almost in injury time against Paraguay, everyone expected Sanchez to bury the shot and get Mexico a vital three points (the match was tied at 1-1). But his shot was blocked by the Paraguayan goalkeeper who guessed right. A nation literally went into shock.

Steven Gerrard
England vs Portugal 2006


England have an awful record in penalty shoot outs in the World Cup (played 3, lost 3). But when Steven Gerrard stepped up to the penalty spot against Portugal as the match went down to penalties, no one expected him to miss. Gerrard was after all, the talismanic Liverpool midfielder who had slotted penalties coolly in the Champions League final a year ago, and in the FA Cup final just a few months ago. He would not miss, would he? He did.

Special mention: Diana Ross (YES!)

You read that right. The music diva was one of the performers at the 1994 World Cup opening ceremony. And she was supposed to cap it all off by running and scoring a penalty – the “goalkeeper” was supposed to miss the ball no matter where it was hit. She hit it well wide!

First published on: 17-06-2018 at 02:44:29 pm
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