It takes two

By Jonathan White Source:Global Times Published: 2016-2-19 5:03:03

A brief history of assists from the penalty spot

Luis Suarez of Barcelona celebrates after scoring against Celta Vigo during their La Liga match on February 14 in Barcelona, Spain. Photo: IC

You can guarantee that at any game of amateur football this weekend if there is a penalty, the takers will be debating whether they should go for the risky two-touch ­version - where the kicker rolls the ball forward and one of his teammates then touches the ball next, either shooting themselves or passing back to the original kicker to stroke it home.

The reason for this is Barcelona's victory over Celta Vigo at the Camp Nou on Valentine's Day. The Blaugrana ran out 6-1 winners but the game will be forever remembered for their fourth goal when Leo Messi decided against scoring his 300th La Liga goal, rolled the ball to his right and strike partner Luis Suarez ran on to the ball, sent the keeper the wrong way and rolled the ball into the net to complete his hat trick.

Audacious? Certainly. Intentional? Not quite. Messi was indeed passing to a teammate but the intended target was in fact Neymar rather than the Uruguayan, as the Brazilian revealed after the game. Suarez beat him to the ball to score, which he may have done because he had encroached into the area as Messi was running up to take the spot kick. The penalty should not have stood for that and the referee ordered a retake.

That, despite what a lot of so-called football fans thought, was the only thing wrong with the ­penalty. You are free to pass the ball. As FIFA's Laws of the Game state, all players other than the kicker need to be inside the field of play but ­outside the penalty area and behind the penalty mark (hence the D at the edge of the area). They also need to be at least 10 yards (9.14 meters) from the penalty mark (hence the D at the edge of the area). The laws go on that after the players have taken their positions, the referee signals for the ­penalty kick to be taken and then the player taking the penalty kick must kick the ball forward. He must not play the ball again until it has touched another player and the ball is in play when it is kicked and moves forward. That's it. Roll the ball forward from the spot and your teammate can have at it, as Messi, Neymar and Suarez knew all too well.

World Cup pioneers

They might have been the latest, and arguably the most high-profile, players to use the laws of the game to their advantage but they were not the first. No, that honor goes to Danny Blanchflower and Jimmy McIlroy of Northern Ireland who did so in a World Cup qualifier against Portugal in Belfast in May 1957. The Irish were 2-0 up and won a penalty which Blanchflower passed for McIlroy to run onto and dribble into the goal. The referee correctly ordered a retake because McIlroy had entered the area before Blanchflower touched the ball so the first two-man penalty was struck from the record. McIlroy netted the retake and the home side were another win closer to the 1958 World Cup in Sweden.

A month later at another World Cup qualifier in Belgium, the world was treated to the two-touch technique but this time it worked. The ­mastermind was Beerschot's Belgian international striker Rik Coppens, who played the ball to his right for the onrushing Andre Piters who beat the keeper to it and returned it for Coppens to tap home into an open net. According to, the goal put Belgium 7-1 ahead in only the 44th minute of a game that they went on to win 8-3. Coppens was rewarded for his ­pioneering penalty with a ban for the rematch in Iceland - a seething Belgian FA refused to let him play. Despite being linked to some of the biggest names in European football the Belgian striker remained at his hometown club for his entire career to be forgotten until the question of the first two-touch penalty is raised again.

Pilgrim's progress

The next two-man triumph from the spot was in the first-ever season of the English League Cup in February 1961. Second-division Plymouth Argyle won a penalty against top-flight Aston Villa in their fourth-round replay. Wilf Carter took the kick and teammate Johnny Newman tucked it away but the Birmingham side won 5-3 in the end. Three years later the Pilgrims were at it again, this time in a November Second Division game against Manchester City at Home Park. This time Newman played provider for Mike Trebilcock to beat the onrushing keeper to the ball and score in a 3-2 win.

It was not until December 1982 that we saw the two-touch penalty again but its return was the most famous until last weekend, in fact it has long been wrongly credited with being the first such example. That's largely because it was Dutch legend Johan Cruyff taking the kick. The Ajax man didn't even take a run-up as he placed the ball on the spot to play a one-two with Danish winger Jesper Olsen to take out the keeper before rolling the ball into an empty net. The fact that this was Cruyff's only penalty in a decade at the Amsterdam club has only added to the mythology around the man.

Fluffed lines

Arsenal's French pair Thierry Henry and ­Robert Pires were not so effective in 2005. In a home game against Manchester City the pair fluffed their lines despite practicing in training. However, with the roles reversed and Pires taking the initial kick - having scored an earlier penalty to put them a goal up - he scuffed the ball and City were given an indirect free kick. Henry did manage to make up for it in a charity game in Chicago in 2013 when the Arsenal great rolled the ball for Florent Malouda to blast home.

Prior to Barcelona, the trick had not been done in Europe's top leagues since Arsenal's failure but it has popped up elsewhere. In the 2006-07 Danish Superliga, Brondby did it against Velje Boldklub. The VB keeper went the right way but still failed to keep out Morton Rasmussen's drilled shot from Martin Ericsson's slide to his left. It even happened twice last summer, Slovakian third-division team OFK Dunajska Luzna succeeded as did Tunisian side Etoile Du Sahel in preseason loss to French giants Marseille.

After last Sunday we will be sure to see more of the penalty assist.

Posted in: Feature, Soccer

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