Victory on penalty shoot-out: talent or luck?

Victory on penalty shoot-out: talent or luck?


Penalty is a heavy psychological test, even for experienced players. In most cases, the result of the game depends on one kick, and the pressure increases tenfold. At the World Championships in Russia, the audience saw quite a lot of penalties, both during the game, and after extra times. In addition, the introduction of the VAR system means that the number of penalties will increase further.

Before the introduction of shoot-outs in 1978, knock-out matches level after extra time would be decided by a replay or a coin toss. To ensure that the results of the games no longer resemble a lottery, the International Football Federation (FIFA) officially introduced a post-match penalty shootout.

Today, the study of a penalty is important for football teams more than ever. Penalty shoot-outs are disliked by many followers of the game, due primarily to their perceived reliance on luck rather than skill and their dependence on individual duels between opposing players. However, researchers who study the game theory believe that luck has nothing to do with it. Game theory is a popular strategy in economics where the outcome of a situation relies more on how well you predict your opponent’s actions than how you perform your own. Here is a question: how likely is it that the goalie can successfully block a penalty kick?

According to statistics, only 27.5 percent of penalties in World Cup history went out. The average speed of the ball is 30.5 m/s. Goalkeepers have just 0.4 seconds, the time it takes you to blink, to save a penalty kick. It is certainly not enough time for a goalie to react and respond.

With the help of economist, Ignacio Palacios-Huerta, who studied more than 11,000 penalty kicks, let us take a look at why penalty shootouts are so unfair to the goalies and what can be done about it. The “doctor” of the penalty argues that, instead of relying on luck, goalkeepers should study the game theory, which will greatly improve their performance. After graduating from the University of Chicago in the mid-90, Ignacio began to study penalties in order to understand their “physics”. Having written several works on this topic, he gained authority among football coaches, and he is constantly asked for advice from the heads of various clubs and national teams.

It came in handy in 2008, during the UEFA Champions League Final, between Manchester United and Chelsea, sort of. The game came down to a penalty shootout that was the perfect opportunity for Chelsea to put Huerta’s advice into action. By watching videos of Cristiano Ronaldo, Huerta worked out that the football star almost certainly would kick the ball to the right if he paused on the run-up. Ronaldo indeed paused and indeed kicked the ball to the right. Following the advice Chelsea’s goalie Petr Čech made the save. Ultimately, Manchester United won the game. However, despite the loss, it proved statistics could help even the odds.

Ignacio also notes that in the penalty shootout the team that beats the first wins 60 percent of penalties. Therefore, many teams are trying to get this opportunity.

At present World Cup that full of surprises, we witnessed how the top stars of world football Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi were not able to score eleven-meter. This is the merit of the goalkeepers of Iran and Iceland respectively, who were able to parry a blow masterfully.

Also worth noting is England. The British have never been lucky with eleven-meters. For the first time in five attempts since 1996, in fact, England have negotiated the metaphorical minefield of a penalty shootout and come out in one piece. England won on penalties, defeating Colombia in the Round of 16 to book a place in the quarterfinals of Russia 2018. Gareth Southgate noted that this time the team prepared for the penalty shootout thoroughly, and even if the statistics were not on their side, they were able to win with a score of 4: 3.