Monday, September 7, 2009

The Shame of the Own Goal

Is there a bigger gaffe in sports?

Putting a soccer ball into your own goal.

Does it get any worse than that?

Well, yes.

When you put the ball into your own net ... twice. In the same game. For the only two goals in a match. A World Cup qualifying match, at that.

And that is what happened to a poor defender in a Saturday qualifier.

Georgia's captain, a veteran defender named Kakha Kaladze, gave up two own goals in his country's 2-0 loss to Italy in a European Group 8 match on Saturday.

That is, Italy doesn't score if Kaladze doesn't score for it.


What compares in infamy to a soccer own goal? Someone taking a safety in American football is dire, but it's two points in a game that might have 20 or 30 scored. Scoring for the other team occasionally happens in basketball, but again, it's a fraction of the scoring.

Nope. I think an own goal in soccer is the most embarrassing event in sports. Especially in modern sports, where the own goals can (and are) seen by millions on television and played and replayed over and again, and everyone can see a guy directing the ball into his own net.

Kaladze wasn't the only misfortunate to score for the opposition on Saturday. Another was French defender Julien Escude, whose own goal in the 58th minute cost France a victory over Romania. The French settled for a 1-1 tie, but France's media seemed far more interested in blaming the coach, Raymond Domenech, than Escude, who redirected a ball into his own net.

Kaladze is a quality player; he is property of Italian power AC Milan. But he was playing in his first match in seven months, following knee surgery, and odds are he will be remembered for his two-own-goals performance as much as for anything positive he ever has done.

Kaladze, sadly, showed his versatility by managing to score once in the air and once on the ground. Ugh. He headed in Angelo Palombo's cross 56 minutes into the match at Tbilisi before miskicking a clearance which also flew into the net.

According to Reuters, Kaldze said, "My team did well and we showed our heart. I'm so sorry, it's my fault. It hurts me. I don't know what to say."

The most infamous own-goal scorer of all time probably is Andres Escobar of Colombia, who gave up an own goal against the United States in the 1994 World Cup, a game the U.S. won 2-1.

That own goal was what put the U.S. into the second round ... and sent home a well-regarded Colombia team (Pele had predicted Colombia would win the World Cup) after the first round.

What cemented Escobar's gaffe in the minds of fans is that he was shot and killed outside a bar, in Colombia, 10 days later. One popular theory behind the shooting is that drug lords who had bet heavily on Colombia took vengeance on Escobar for his innocent mistake.

At any rate, I couldn't name five other defenders who played in the 1994 World Cup aside from Escobar. And I bet, in Georgia, and in Italy (at the least), Kakha Kaladze will be a name that will live in infamy for a long, long time.

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