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   June 30, 2002 | 2310 IST


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Changes needed for more goals

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Paul Radford

Asia's first World Cup promised to be a feast, but there were slim pickings for anyone who showed up late -- and the time is surely ripe for some changes to brighten up the game.

The tournament began with a bang -- there were goals galore and shocks aplenty in the opening group stage.

But it ended with a whimper and a goal famine in the knock-out phase. Just seven goals were scored in six quarter-final and semi-final matches.

That's not entertainment.

Okay, so it did not stop 1.5 billion people around the globe tuning in to watch Sunday's final on television. But it just may be time FIFA looked at refining their 'product' to give it lasting appeal.

Tinkering with the rules would involve breaking a few football taboos but, if the game is to retain its popularity throughout the 21st century, it needs to come up-to-date.

Here are some ideas which might work.

1. Stop the clock.
Who says it must be a game of two 45-minute halves? Less can also be more. Cut the time to 30 minutes each way -- but stop the clock whenever the ball is out of play, as they do in ice hockey and some other sports.

Statistics at this World Cup show that the ball is in play for between 42 and 63 minutes each match. Guarantee the fans an hour of solid action and you would give them a better deal -- plus more goals. Ten minutes each way for extra-time too.

2. Video replays for key incidents.
FIFA and its president Sepp Blatter may shudder but it is patently ridiculous that millions of people watching a game on television know a goal has been wrongly awarded or disallowed and that the only person who does not is the referee.

Give the poor ref a break and the technical help he needs. As this World Cup has shown, one bad call can change the result of a match and four years of hard work by a coach and his players. Ask Italy and Spain.

It is far too important to let human error be a critical factor. This need not stop the flow of play as critics claim since the replay can be shown in a matter of seconds.

Restrict video replays to controversial goal incidents, penalties and red card offences only and it would rarely happen more than once or twice a match anyway.

3. End the agony of penalty shoot-outs.
Every World Cup leaves behind players who must carry the burden of guilt for destroying a nation's hopes just because they missed a penalty.

Replace penalties with some collective action which would eliminate what is really a form of torture. Five corners apiece with five forwards against a goalkeeper and two defenders and 10 seconds to score might do the trick and would be far more fun into the bargain.

4. End yellow card suspensions.

Michael Ballack of Germany missed the final this time as did Italy's Alessandro Costacurta in 1994 and Claudio Caniggia of Argentina in 1990, just because they picked up two yellow cards on the way, often an arbitrary enough sanction anyway.

Make yellow card offenders serve their punishment in the match they are playing in rather than pay in the future. In other words, introduce a sin-bin as in ice hockey where yellow cards could be absolved in 10 minutes off the pitch.

5. Ditch the golden goal.
The golden goal makes teams play too cautiously for fear of conceding one and ending the game. Play to the end of extra-time and give the team which has gone behind a chance to come back and win.

If the golden goal had existed in 1970, one of the greatest games in World Cup history would have been little more than a footnote.

Italy's thrilling 4-3 win over West Germany, with five goals in extra time, would have been a 2-1 win to the Germans, who scored first in extra time.

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