The shootout has already peaked. After nine tries that’d already featured unforeseeably horrible shots Stefan Kießling lined up needing to convert. In a shootout as high as Billy Crudup at a house party, he was Bayer Leverkusen’s final penalty kick taker. His club was behind, 3-2,. If he missed, the Germans were going out of the Champions League.
And he blasted it straight over the bar.
Kießling fell and stared the ground. He was shocked. Or upset. Or dumbfounded. Or furious. Or disappointed. He was probably all of those things. He was definitely the man everyone was watching and wondering, “how the hell did he miss that badly?”
There was some good news for Kießling, though. He didn’t take the worst shot in penalties. That honor belonged to his teammate Omer Toprak.
When it was Toprak’s turn to shoot, he casually put the ball down and walked about three steps behind it. Then he took a couple nonchalant strides, looking like anything but an athlete, and put his plant foot down. At that point, he still had no idea where he was going to aim his shot. He was a mess. And unsurprisingly, his shot went over the bar, leaving him to turn and walk back up field looking just as clueless as he did when he took his kick.
Of course, Kießling and Toprak were not alone. They may have not even been trailblazers. They could have just been followers, inspired by Atlético Madrid’s opening penalty. Raúl Garcia also blasted his right over the bar, not even coming close. Kießling and Toprak merely imitated the shootout’s opening act.
Not even the shots on target were free from horrors. In the middle of those sky-high rockets came Hakan Calhanoglu – the free kicker extraordinaire who rolled a slow attempt right down the middle so even backup goalkeeper Jan Oblak could save it.
It was an exhibition in horrific penalties, and it came by both teams. Bayer Leverkusen didn’t just doubled down on Atleti’s disasters. They tripled down.
The only silver lining to the shootout would have been baseball rules that allowed fans to keep the balls the players fired into the stands. After all, if the fan can avoid injury from wayward missiles, they deserve the ball. At the very least, they should get to bring the ball back down onto the pitch and take the next kick. They would certainly do better than Kießling, Toprak, Garcia and Calhanoglu.
But as bad as the penalties got, nothing was as bizarre as one of the few penalties that went in. With the shootout tied at 2-2 and going into the fifth round, Atlético Madrid tapped Fernando Torres for its final try. Diego Simeone is an insane man, but this was shocking even for him.
So in a shootout on drugs, Torres had the match on his foot. He placed the ball down 12 yards away from goal, stepped back and got ready for his kick. As the striker struck the ball, goalkeeper Bernd Leno guessed the right way. That was it. Torres and Atlético should have been doomed.
But in the penalties from hell, laced with shrooms, nothing made sense. So of course Torres’ kick was absolutely perfect, just as it had to be. His kick found the back corner of the net, Kießling fired his over the bar, and Atlético was into the Champions League quarterfinals.
Nothing made sense. Nothing was conventional. Nothing was good. That is except for Fernando Torres, the precise striking hero.