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Spare a thought for the 'penalty' man

As Lehmann saved Cambiasso's penalty to let Germany in the WC semis, home fans spared a thought for fellow national Karl Wald- creator of the 'penalty' concept.

india Updated: Jul 01, 2006 16:03 IST

When goalkeeper Jens Lehmann saved Esteban Cambiasso's penalty on June 30,2006 to send Germany through to the World Cup semi-finals, the home fans would have done well to spare a thought for fellow national Karl Wald.

For it was the former referee Wald who came up with the concept of the penalty shoot-out in the first place.

It appears rather fitting that a German should have conceived the idea. After all, German teams seem to have perfected the concept and Friday's victory against Argentina was the fourth time that Germany was involved in a shoot-out at World Cup level.

And they won all four times, missing just one penalty in total!

Wald first came up with the idea in 1970, and the 90-year-old is still proud of his brainchild today.

"It's the only way in which a result can be achieved fairly. Everything else was not really a solution," he says.

Until Wald came up with his idea, matches were mostly decided on a flip of the coin or by the drawing of lots. Seldom a replay was ordered.

As late as 1968, European Champions Italy had made it into the tournament's final after being drawn out of a hat following a goalless game in the semi-final against the Soviet Union.

"That was not a victory, that was nothing," Wald recalls.

But Wald, who received his referee's license in 1936 and officiated more than 1,000 matches in 40 years, faced reluctance at first. The Bavarian football association attempted to block his proposal when it was put forward in 1970.

It was only when the majority of delegates said they were in favour that the officials gave their backing.

Shortly afterwards, the German football association followed suit and the European association UEFA and the world controlling body FIFA also accepted the proposal.

The rest is history.

The first major tournament to be decided on penalties was the 1976 European Championships, when German Uli Hoeness blasted his penalty well over the bar and Czechoslovakian Antonin Panenka scored to give his side victory.

The first World Cup match to be decided on penalties took place in 1982, and again Germany were involved. This time the Germans won, beating France in the semi-final. Twelve years later, in the US, the World Cup champions were for the first time determined on a shoot-out, with Brazil beating Italy.

But even though the penalty shoot-out has now become an integral part of football, the inventor of the idea has spent little time in the limelight, despite having refereed some matches in Germany's top flight before the start of the Bundesliga.

"1860 Munich against Fuerth in front of 45,000 spectators," recalls Wald, whom FIFA president Joseph Blatter congratulated on his 90th birthday.

The former miner and unionist retired at 63. But he continued to officiate at matches for a further 12 years.

And though there continue to be criticisms of his idea, the penalty shoot-out remains the way in which most drawn matches are still decided.

Actor Peter Ustinov once described it thus: "A shoot-out is as if a great war is not decided by great tactics developed around a boardroom table, but by a bunch of chosen privates playing Russian Roulette."

"I always believed that I was right," Wald maintains, pointing to the many exciting penalty shoot-outs that have taken place over the years.

On June 30, 2006 millions of German football fans would have agreed with him.