‘Yes! Good ball!’ I hear someone shout at the sideline. The home team’s supporters applaud. Kontich’s fast right winger has just mercilessly shot the ball behind our goalie. Since our first penalty taker didn’t hit the target that puts the score at 1-0. For a minute, I’m bummed out. But then I think about a moment approximately ten minutes earlier.
‘Ladies, you’ve worked hard today. Twice they scored the go-ahead goal and twice we fought back to equalize. We have the mental advantage. Okay, who feels good enough to take a penalty?’ My hand shoots up. Immediately, I realise what I’ve just signed up for. Shit. I practice it a lot in training, but when you have to take a penalty in a match it’s a completely different ball game. But there’s no turning back now. ‘Okay, Emma, the second penalty is yours.’
A nerve-racking walk
Some time ago I saw an interview with a pro player, who was talking about penalty kicks. I don’t remember who it was and what he said, but it came down to the following: the absolute worst thing is the walk from the center circle to the penalty spot. Those 39 meters seem to last a lifetime, he said. Now I can imagine that it might be a little more nerve-racking in a World Cup final, with 80,000 people in the stands and hundreds of millions watching on TV, but last Saturday I had to take those 39 steps in front of a handful of supporters, with a place in the final of the regional cup of Antwerp at stake. It felt the exact same way.
Fortunately, I had seen that the opponent’s goalkeeper, who did not make a very confident impression during the game, had to be encouraged by her teammates. She seemed to be on the verge of tears. So when I took my 39 big steps in the direction of the penalty spot, I never broke eye contact with her. I was staring as if my life depended on it. When I arrived I shortly contemplated pulling a ‘Hans van Breukelen’ (pointing at your eye to indicate that you know in which direction the player or goalkeeper is going to go), but decided that might be a bit too risky. What if I ended up missing? What would those 40 people on the sidelines think of me?
I took a run-up, and used the technique that is often effective against lower teams, when you’re facing mediocre goalkeepers. For a very brief moment, my eyes flashed in the direction of the left side of the goal. The goalkeeper, who would probably be watching me for signs of insecurity, would think she caught me and would dive to that corner. This meant that the right side was open, and it was an easy pass into that corner for me. After I scored, I barely cheered, that’s how relieved I was.
We ended up losing by 5-4 and wouldn’t reach the cup final. But playing for the prizes is something I’m definitely looking forward to doing again. Fortunately, every team starts at 0 again after the summer, a typical case of ‘new round, new opportunities.’ And trust me, we will be ready next year. Oh, and er… Kontich? Don’t count on keeping us out of the final again next year. Bring it on. Yours truly, VC Moldavo.
Thanks for reading, talk soon! 🙂