Cristiano Ronaldo will never know for sure if the decision to go fifth in the penalty shoot-out against Spain cost Portugal a place in Sunday’s Euro 2012 final.
But the fact that he never got to take a spot-kick, after two of his team-mates missed, surely will haunt him and Bento forever.
Why would you leave your most prolific goal-scorer, all-round team talisman and world’s second best footballer behind Lionel Messi with hands on hips waiting on the half-way line when he could be influencing the result?
Bento’s reasoning presumably was that the fifth penalty was most likely to be the most crucial and that Ronaldo was best equipped to handle the pressure.
Yet, while saving the best for last is not a bad strategy if you are enjoying a box of chocolates, when it comes to penalty shoot-outs it sucks.
There is no sure-fire way of choosing the order in a penalty shoot-out. It is a gamble, a lottery, anyone can miss. After all, Ronaldo, who scored 60 goals for Real Madrid last season, missed a spot-kick in Real’s defeat by Bayern Munich in the Champions League semi-final.
There is, however, a dash of art and a smidgen of science which Bento chose to ignore.
The reason most coaches send out their best penalty-takers first is to give the team a better chance of scoring that crucial first spot-kick which keeps pressure on opponents. Pressure grows. It seeps into the psyche, affecting a player’s ability to think and act clearly.
Confidence rubs off, too, which is why all logic says the opportunity of Ronaldo striding up first to smash the ball home should not have been spurned.
Bento got it wrong. Hopelessly wrong.
As wrong as US Ryder Cup captain Curtis Strange who put out Tiger Woods, then indisputably the best golfer on the planet, as his 12th and final man in the last-day singles in 2002 and saw the match won by Europe before Woods’ battle with Jesper Parnevik had a chance to affect proceedings.
Sport is essentially simple, often made complicated by coaches who overanalyse.
Yet there are no guarantees. England manager Roy Hodgson did the right thing by choosing Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney as his first and second penalty-takers against Italy in the quarter-finals of Euro 2012 and they dispatched their spot-kicks with aplomb. Hodgson could do nothing about Ashley Young and Ashley Cole’s misses.
Or could he?
When Terry Venables was manager of England he was renowned for his meticulous approach to penalty taking.
Penalty practice followed every training session and involved Venables calling in order the player to take the next kick, who then had to walk from the bunch of players assembled on the half-way line, all attempting to distract him, to take the penalty.
In short, every effort was made to recreate the routine, if not the atmosphere, of the real thing.
Venables did not hold sway with those who say the conditions cannot be replicated in practice so what is the point.
Venables’ team practised, practised, practised before and during Euro 96 and their 4-2 shoot-out victory against Spain remains England’s most recent success on penalties in a major championship.
Who took the spot-kicks? 1. Alan Shearer. 2. David Platt. 3. Stuart Pearce. 4. Paul Gascoigne. All successful and confidently dispatched, epitomised by Shearer’s right-foot smash high into the left corner.
True, Venables’ team then lost against the Germans in the semi-final shoot-out that year, Shearer, Platt, Pearce, Gascoigne and Teddy Sheringham all scoring before Gareth Southgate failed with the sixth penalty. Would the order have made any difference?
We’ll never know, but at least the strategy was sound. No-one could ever accuse Venables of saving his best for last.
By Frank Malley, PA Sport