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Low's new Germany comes at a price

Germany
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 By Chris Jones

Bring back the golden goal as the only way to decide football matches

PARIS -- The golden goal was abolished by the International Football Association Board in 2004, the decade-plus of its existence now regarded mostly as a failed experiment, an unnecessary tinkering with the beautiful game. But with negative tactics still so often on display in international football, we should reassess its value. Only this time, we should make the golden goal the only way to end a match.

First, a bit of history, particularly consequential here in France. The golden goal was introduced by IFAB in 1993 as a way to combat the sometimes suffocating play of teams in extra time. The logic behind the revolutionary decision was sound: If a single goal could decide so much, both teams would be compelled to try for it.

The golden goal was first introduced to the Euros in 1996, and with a certain predictability, a golden goal finished it. Germany beat the Czech Republic in the final when Oliver Bierhoff scored his magical decider. (Joachim Low earned laughter from reporters this week when he said he would be avoiding Bierhoff, the team's manager, on the 20th anniversary of the goal. "I will be happy if I don't hear that story," Low said, "as he constantly keeps telling it.")

The French, however, became the truer masters of it. At the World Cup in 1998, Laurent Blanc scored in the 113th minute against Paraguay to advance from the round of 16, one of the more critical pivots in that team's march toward glorious history. And David Trezeguet's winner vaulted France over Italy in the final at the 2000 edition of Euro.

But apart from the forgettable half-measure of the silver goal to come, football's version of sudden death would itself prove short-lived. The reaction to IFAB's decision to scrap it was mostly positive. One significant strike against it was the widespread confusion about its application; tournament organizers had, in effect, been given a range of options in deciding how games might end. "The important thing was to have clarity and to have a single method to determine the outcome of a match," David Taylor, a Scottish member of IFAB, said at the time.

More importantly, the golden goal had, in many ways, the opposite of its intended effect. (If you ever find yourself in need of a true example of irony, the golden goal is it.) Rather than push to score the deciding goal, most teams played determined not to give it up. Because it mattered so much, it froze even the best football players in the world, paralyzed by the weight of its consequence.

The current universal standard for deciding deadlocked games: 30 minutes of extra time, 15 minutes each way, and if the match is still drawn, the dreaded penalties.

That solution has proved simple and easy to understand but also unsatisfactory in its own ways. Lesser teams especially still treat extra time as something they just have to survive. Against a better side, the coin flip of penalties -- when, as we recently saw, even greats like Lionel Messi can buckle under the pressure -- seems the safer bet.

Germany won Euro 1996 after Oliver Bierhoff scored a golden goal against the Czech Republic, though Joachim Low doesn't want to hear about it anymore.

Even good teams sometimes stiffen during extra time. At this Euro, two elimination games have required it. The first, Poland against Switzerland, saw a nervy 30 minutes pass without much action. The second, Portugal against Croatia, didn't feature a shot until 27 minutes into it, when Portugal finally scored to end one of the worst games in recent memory.

Too often, extra time is a painful prolonging of the inevitable. The play at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa was uninspired enough for FIFA's Sepp Blatter to murmur about changing the rules of the game again. "Is it worth taking another look at the golden goal?" he asked. Enough people must have told him "No" because -- like Blatter himself -- the idea was soon dispatched.

It's still early here in France, but given 2010 and the often grinding displays in Brazil in 2014, the golden goal really does deserve serious reconsideration, but more radically than before. The problem with its first incarnation is that teams still had another out: penalties. There were two ways to win, and most teams opted for the latter. The rule change would have had a better chance of achieving its desired result if the golden goal were the only option.

Play continues, 15 minutes each way, until one team scores.

The principal argument against that method, of course, is that exhausted players might be finished before their games. Perhaps additional substitutes could be added to the equation, making strategy and the composition of benches all the more important.

It might seem like a cruel way to end a long and even match, on a single shot or, worse, a fate-changing mistake. But is it any crueler than penalties?

And looking outside of football's particular ecosystem, other sports finish their games with their own versions of sudden death, and nobody would dream of having it any other way.

Take hockey. The ratcheting tension of potentially endless overtime is one of the reasons the Stanley Cup playoffs are so enthralling. If you want to see the almost limitless potential of the golden goal, watch Sidney Crosby's literal one, when he scored against the United States to give Canada the gold medal at the 2010 Winter Olympics.

With this one clear, unequivocal change, so, too, might football evolve for the good. Teams would know that every single match will end, one way or another, on a goal. So this time, like football's governing bodies, they would be better off really going for it.

Chris Jones is a writer for ESPN FC. He's on Twitter @EnswellJones.

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