Tips for taking penalties

A plea to English penalty takers: For the love of God, Queen and Country, do not try to be clever. Crouch attempted a nifty, casual lob from the penalty spot, and looked quite the gangly fool. Leave trickery and audaciousness to the Brazilians, because they have the confidence to pull it off.

An interesting Letter from London by Clive Davis; an enjoyable post by Dave Hill on The Meaningful Game (he is fast becoming my favourite blogger on Comment is Free); and England’s 6-0 victory over Jamaica. I have reached a point where I can no longer resist the urge: I must opine on something footbally.

Penalty shootouts are an easy thing to analyse, because the number of factors that influence the outcome are much fewer when compared to an actual ninety-minute match. Just one kick, and a binary outcome. With more and more games being decided on penalties (most importantly, the 1994 World Cup final), one would assume that, by now, the managers and players would have solved the equation. Annoyingly, this is not in fact the case, as Peter Crouch’s ridiculous over-the-bar effort on Saturday reminds us. So allow me to state the bleedin’ obvious…

(1) Most penalty saves are lucky. Crucially, not good judgement or good reactions. Goalkeepers find themselves in the vicinity of the ball, and palm it accordingly…

… so (2) It is all about power. Even if the goalie dives the right way, he will be a second behind the ball, and will not stop a powerful shot…

which means (3) It is all about the run-up. This has been a long held opinion of mine, ever since Romania lost to the Republic of Ireland in the second round of Italia ’90. They were let down by Daniel Timofte’s causual, poncy, cool-as-a-cucumber, two-step run-up that allowed Pat ‘Packie’ Bonner to make the save. Bonner got all the credit, but it was Timofte’s doing. The Italian hosts succumbed to Argentina in a similar fashion.

A plea to English penalty takers: For the love of God, Queen and Country do not try to be clever. At Old Trafford, Crouch attempted a nifty lob from the penalty spot, and looked quite the gangly fool. Leave trickery and audaciousness to the Brazilians, because they have the confidence to pull it off. There is no need to try and fool the goalkeeper. He’s not actually part of the equation.

5 thoughts on “Tips for taking penalties”

  1. I don’t know, somehow your arguments don’t convince me.

    If it’s all down to luck, why are some goal keepers more successful in saving penalties? Are you saying they were lucky early in their career and have built a reputation letting penalty takers get the nerves against them? Or that they are just luckier in general?

    In regards to power, I’d say that’s part of the equation, but by far not all. Controlled power is much more important I should think, plain power just drives the ball into the sky or past the goal.

  2. Its worth recalling the England vs Germany shootout in Euro ’96 at Wembley. I haven’t seen a replay recently, but I seem to remember it was a clinical destruction, with each German penalty hitting the top-corner. Controlled power indeed, and Seaman stood no chance – despite having been the hero in an earlier game (Portugal?).

    But again, firing the ball into one of the corners is nothing to do with ‘outwitting’ the keeper. Its a tactic that minimises his influence.

  3. Don’t forget the psychology – the repositioning of the ball, the pre penalty chat to the penalty taker which I seem to remember happened fairly recently and the audacious wiggly dancing of a goalkeeper and the penalty taker being in awe of the goalie or the other way round – that is one of the reasons that some goalies have more success – but we shall see.

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