Batsmen miss 39% of shots in World Cup penalty shootouts


The Qatar Cup has been prodigal in deciding the classification of the teams in the penalty shootout, which fills the games with emotion and, not infrequently, enshrines the goalkeepers.

Of the 12 knockout matches at the World Cup — eight in the round of 16 and four in the quarterfinals — a third had a penalty shootout to decide who advanced and who went home.

And the result was a low rate (61%) of penalties taken. Of the 33 shots in the four games that were charged after overtime, 13 were wasted (39%).

Kicks that started from the whitewash mark during the games had a higher hit rate: 68% (13 of 19), but still below average.

The company Sensorial, from Ribeirão Preto (SP), specialized in neuroscience, states, based on a survey by John Moores University, from Liverpool (England), that “statistically, 70% of penalty kicks are converted” —this for games in general, not just in the world tournament.

Another study, carried out by researchers Mike Hughes (Carlow Institute of Technology, Ireland) and Julia Wells (English Institute of Sports), considering World Cup and Eurocup matches, points out that the hit rate of batsmen is 75% in penalty shootouts.

In Qatar, the errors of goalkeepers unable to score when kicking a dead ball 11 meters from the goal (which is 7.32 m wide by 2.44 m high) created instant heroes among goalkeepers.

Croatian Livakovic caught four shots (three against Japan, one against Brazil). The Moroccan Bono defended twice against the Spaniards, and the Argentine Martínez, twice against the Dutch.

Of the other four failed attempts, three hit the post – one of them by Marquinhos, who eliminated Brazil – and one went wide, by Argentine Enzo Fernández.

Errors in penalty kicks happen, sometimes more (as in the case of Spain, who wasted all three chances in the dispute with Morocco), sometimes less (Croatia hit 7 of 8 attempts in the decisions with Japan and Brazil).

Hughes and Wells, in the study “Analysis of penalties in penalty shootouts” (2002), concluded that the penalty hit with less force is the one with the lowest success rate, being saved by the goalkeeper in 53% of the times. The analysis considered 129 penalties.

What does the rule say

The current rule on penalties, sanctioned this year by Ifab (the body that regulates football laws), is more favorable to goalkeepers, allowing them to keep only one foot on the line, and not both, when the batsman kicks the ball.

In addition to the advantage for the goalkeeper, who becomes more mobile, there is also the pressure on the hitter, which affects more or less certain athletes, since each one has a personality and deals better or worse with the emotional side.

This component theoretically diminishes in a World Cup, as the players that are in it usually play in big clubs and are used to dealing with pressure.

Dutchman Van Dijk, however, aged 31 and with extensive experience, declared that he felt uncomfortable with, according to him, 80,000 Argentine fans booing him at the Lusail stadium before hitting —missing— his penalty.

“It’s a lottery,” declared the defender after the game, repeating a justification used for failure in penalty shootouts since it was introduced in football in 1970.

Luck or practice?

There are those who say that it is not a matter of luck, but of practice, as argued by Luis Enrique (“if you train often, you will improve”), coach of Spain in the World Cup, certainly frustrated and surprised to see his subordinates get everything wrong. France coach Didier Deschamps is another believer in training as a means of increasing success in penalties.

The German Lothar Matthäus, however, captain of the German team that won the 1990 Italian Cup, declared in FIFA’s documentary “The Long Walk”, that “you can train as much as you want, but you can’t prepare to do well”. , mentioning the impossibility of controlling aspects such as “the climate, the pressure and the tiredness you feel after 120 minutes”.

But leaving aside the lottery, and if it were possible to eliminate the pressure factor, is there a way to increase the chance of scoring a goal in a penalty? Yes, this has been known for a long time. And yes, it depends on training.

It’s a matter of physics. The combination of strength and location chosen for the kick is decisive for the success of the hit, studies point out.

The best option is the strong kick (in which the speed of the ball reaches, according to Sensorial, 90 km/h) and high, in one of the angles. If this is done, the goalkeeper does not have time to arrive and it is a sure goal.

“A shot at that speed reaches the goal in about 450 milliseconds. The goalkeeper has less than half a second to reach the ball. A quick reaction time under these conditions varies between 200 and 300 milliseconds, that’s just to react, not to mention the time needed to get to the ball”, wrote Milton Ávila, 37, doctor in neuroscience from USP and CEO of Sensorial.

Neuroscientist and physicist Ronald Ranvaud, a former professor at the Institute of Biomedical Sciences at the University of São Paulo and a specialist in the field, went on TV in 2009 to explain how the “perfect penalty” works.

“No goalkeeper can catch the ball. There’s no way”, he declared in Globo Esporte about the combination of speed, which doesn’t even need to be 90 km/h, above 80 km/h would be enough, and precision – the kick has to hit angle.

The report carried out a practical test with professionals from Grêmio Barueri, in Greater São Paulo, and, out of ten charges made in the proposed and recommended style, the goalkeeper did not catch any.

If there is a way to hit almost every time if the technique is accurate –the “almost” is used precisely because there is an emotional factor involved–, why don’t players use it?

Because it is not easy, it requires exhaustive training, as it is a fact that it is more difficult to hit the angle with a strong kick than to hit it in another way, whichever way you choose, and at another point of the goal.

An excuse that, according to Matt Miller-Dicks, senior professor of skill acquisition at the University of Portsmouth (England), does not hold. “The margin of error is just a little bit smaller aiming for that part of the goal,” he told Reuters news agency of the angled shot.

Researchers Hughes and Wells give numbers to penalties taken with “full force”: 31% miss the goal, regardless of the location chosen by the kicker.

The report of Sheet watched all 33 penalties taken in disputes between the teams that were worth the survival in the Qatar Cup. There wasn’t a single player who risked a petard in the angle.

Even the use of force itself was little used. Only 9 of the 33 penalties had visibly powerful shots, or 27%. Six of them (including one from Brazil, from Casemiro) entered, or 67%. Of the misses, two hit the crossbar and one, by the Dutchman Berghuis, stopped at Martínez, who hit the corner.

If the use of force is appropriate, just follow the advice of a TV commentator, the former English player Chris Sutton, to be happy with the penalty: “When in doubt, fill your foot.”

‘Mental game’

In addition to having to dedicate himself in training to kicking hard and correctly in the air, the kicker will also need to put aside the fun of tricking the goalkeeper, sending him into a corner and the rival going to the other, daring with a “cadinha ” – created by the Czech Antonín Panenka in 1976.

Many athletes do not give up this “mental game” with the goalkeeper, waiting, in a slow run towards the ball, for him to move to one side, to then push the ball to the opposite corner -Neymar (whose use in penalties is 83%) and the Polish Lewandowski (89% accuracy) do just that.

It is worth remembering that the “stop”, a device that would have been created by Pelé in the 1960s and which has since been used by several penalty takers –Neymar among them–, has not been allowed for 12 years.

FIFA said of the stoppage in 2010 that “threatening to kick the ball once the player has completed the run is now an infringement of law number 14 and an unsporting act for which the player must be punished”. The punishment is a yellow card.

On the side of goalkeepers, there are those who study opponents to find out how often each one hits which corner. Aware of this, they jump to that side and, if the scout does not change what he usually does, they increase his chance of defending.

Others use another strategy, that of observing the kicker’s support foot – the side to which it is pointed would indicate the location of the kick.

“Two people are fighting each other, one brain against the other. The brain game is evident, about who can better anticipate the other’s movement”, says Ávila, from Sensorial, emphasizing that this cerebral duel on the penalty spot between the batter and the goalkeeper on the penalty spot always existed in football.

For him, who mentioned striker Henrique Dourado (ex-Fluminense and ex-Flamengo), the secret of a player who almost never fails is to be able to “keep the vision both on the ball and on the goalkeeper”.

However, in a World Cup, even the best batsmen are at greater risk of making mistakes, says the neuroscientist, because “emotional aspects influence muscle contraction, which influences accuracy”.

Does hitting the 1st penalty make a difference?

In the World Cup, no.

Survey of the blog O Mundo É uma Bola, edited by the author of this report, shows that there have been 34 penalty shootouts in World Cups to date. The team that started by hitting won 17, and the team that took the second penalty won the other 17.

Even in this Cup there is a draw: whoever started the penalty shoot-out was the winner twice (Croatia against Brazil and Morocco against Spain) and the loser in the other two (Japan against Croatia and the Netherlands against Argentina).

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