The Reluctant Hero

Chilean defender hates penalties but has 100 per cent record

This is the time of year when clubs start thinking about penalty shoot-outs. With Cup competitions entering knock-out phases and play-offs on the horizon, now is the time to start focusing on shoot-out strategy and purposeful practise.

The last penalty shoot-out in the Champions League (not including the qualifiers) was in the 2016 final. That’s nearly five years I’ve been waiting! Luckily, shoot-out season is already underway in South America – and last week, the Copa Libertadores Femenina provided a cracker at the semi-final stage.

Photo: Javiera Mera

Universidad de Chile (known as U) drew 0-0 against Brazilian side Ferroviaria, only after U’s Yessenia Lopez missed the target with a first-half penalty. She bravely stepped up again in the shoot-out – and scored.

Ferroviaria won the penalty shoot-out 7-6, after nine players from each side took penalties. It was a brilliant shoot-out that started dramatically, as penalty three was struck so well that it broke the stanchion post (the post that goes from the crossbar to the back of the net). After much toing-and-froing, the referee decided to switch ends mid-shoot-out. Probably just as well it was in an empty stadium. The full shoot-out is here:

U had the chance to progress but missed the penalty to go through. The most memorable penalty was one that did go in. Carla Guerrero, U’s centre-back, stepped up with her team 4-3 down and, GK-Independent, slammed the ball into the top corner on her non-natural side. You can see the penalty here:

Guerrero is not a regular penalty-taker, but has taken, and scored, two other penalties in shoot-outs before. Her last, for Colo Colo in the Copa Libertadores final back in 2017, went in exactly the same spot; top corner, non-natural side. Check out where the ball is in the picture below - unstoppable!

My friend Carolina Silva, who told me about this shoot-out, interviewed Guerrero after the game for her newspaper, Las Ultimas Noticias. This is what Guerrero said:

“I am not a player who normally takes penalties, but in these moments, I have to assume responsibilities and I was one of the chosen ones. I don't like to take penalties, I just try to avoid it if I can. I look calm, but I'm very nervous. I chose the [non-natural] side, but I wasn’t aiming so high in the goal. I hit the ball low and it rose up. I couldn’t believe where it ended up! It was very nerve-wracking.”

Guerrero, is nicknamed La Jefa, The Chief. She is seen as the team’s most important player, a true leader, and was one of four players nominated for the Copa Libertadores Femenina Player of the Tournament. U built their run to the semi-final on their defence; only conceding one goal in the three matches that Guerrero played. The one game U lost - a 4-1 group-stage defeat to Ferroviaria - was the match that Guerrero did not start.

“When she retires, or perhaps before, Chileans who come next, and not only the Chileans, will try to score penalties and fight for each ball like Carla Guerrero,” wrote columnist Esteban Abarzua. “She is making us review the theory of the perfect penalty.”

For someone who hates taking pressure penalties, La Jefa definitely knows where to put them! 

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