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Hands up if you are an ABBA fan?

Friday 27th October 2017
No not the iconic Swedish band that dominated the music charts in the 1970's. Although their hit ‘The Winner Takes it All' is the outcome of football's latest innovation by the same name.
Introduced for selected cup competitions in the 2017-18 season, ABBA refers to a new format for the much-debated penalty shoot-out. Not a radical change, penalties remain the same dramatic and controversial match decider that has terrorised players and fans alike since the 1970s. Instead, ABBA reflects a tweak in the way the shoot-out is conducted.

It took a pen, some paper and five minutes of working through various permutations but ABBA simply reflects the order that penalties are taken. Rather than the traditional format where teams take alternate spot kicks, under ABBA, after the first penalty, teams take two consecutive penalties each. For example team ‘A' takes the first one, team ‘B' then takes the next two, followed by team ‘A' taking two and so on.

In a sporting context, ABBA is similar to the tie-break in Tennis. Although the winner doesn't need to gain an advantage of two. There is no change to the rules in determining the victor.


ABBA was introduced in an effort to make the contest fairer for the team taking the second penalty. Under the original system, that team was playing catch up and hence considered to be under a greater pressure when taking their kicks. A greater pressure perceived as increasing the likelihood of missing. In short, the team taking the first penalty had an unfair advantage.

ABBA does not remove the pressure rather it more equally distributes it.

Does the theory work in practice?  

ABBA was first used in a competitive match at this year's Community Shield. Chelsea took the first penalty and scored; Arsenal the next two and eventually won the shoot-out 4-1.
More recently ABBA decided the EFL Cup fourth round tie between Manchester City and Wolverhampton. Again the team taking the second and third penalties won. This time City won, again the score 4-1.

So, in both cases the team taking the first penalty has lost. ABBA's objective appears to have worked but has it gone too far the other way? Is the side taking the first penalty now under more pressure, especially if they miss and the opponents scores twice to go two up?

If ABBA is not the answer what is?

Forget regulatory changes such as ABBA, many would argue, particularly the purists, that penalty shoot-outs should no longer decide games. That, despite the unrivalled drama and tension created, they are not a fair or compassionate way to decide a game. They are a lottery. No way to determine the biggest games in world football.

  • So what are the alternatives to the penalty shoot-out? Some have suggested that football follows hockey's lead, where the shoot-out allows players to run with the ball from distance with a time limit to get a shot on goal. More skill/technique required while maintaining the excitement generated from penalties. But is it really that different? There would still be pressure on individuals and a victim at the end.

  • Ideally, games should be decided in open play. One method to ensure this is for teams to lose a player each after a set time period. As the number of players decreases so does the likelihood of a winning goal. Add in the factor of tiredness and games would soon be decided in open play.

  • One for the statisticians. Drawn games at the end of extra time are decided by the team that has achieved the most corners, shots on target or any other criteria deemed necessary, such as fair play. Maybe a fairer way as games would then be decided by a team's attacking performance over the course of the whole game. Morally good but a definite anti-climax for the watching public.

Golden goals, silver goals, have been tried and disbanded. The above discussed and considered. ABBA is, albeit small, another attempt to improve the current process. Will it have an impact? Only time will tell. One thing for sure is that love them or hate them penalty shoot-outs are here for good.
Allan Kemp

Born in Suffolk but a Norwich City supporter who is currently trying to swap a career in finance with one in football writing. I am an FA level 2 coach and also a published author, my book of Hall of fame - Norwich City's - All-Time Greats is available from all good bookshops. I currently have a weekly column on Norwich City website - 'My Football Writer' as well as writing book reviews on 'Its Round and Its White'.

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