The Perfect Penalty

Posted on: 13 October 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

What's the best thing to do when you are put on the spot in football?

Is there more thought involved in scoring a penalty than just running up and blasting the ball?  Blast it or place it? Wait for the keeper to move? Or pick a spot and stick to it?

There are many thoughts going through a penalty taker’s mind as soon as the referee points to the spot.

Nobody's expecting the goalkeeper to save it, but he'll be a hero if he does, casting the kicker as the villain.

So where and how should you strike the perfect penalty?

Research carried out by Liverpool John Moores University has come up with at least one definitive solution.

According to the research, a well-placed ball, high to the corner, will not be stopped by the goalkeeper even if he anticipates it.

"There is not enough time to react, so a kick placed in this area would have a 100 per cent strike rate,” says Professor Tom Riley.

"Some players blast the ball straight down the middle, assuming that the goalkeeper will move, but it's not always successful and goalkeepers have become wise to it.”

Though the top corners may have a 100 per cent strike rate, the shot is very tricky to pull off and therefore a bigger gamble for the striker.

But it's an interesting alternative to the conventional theory that you will often hear from professionals, managers and commentators.

Hitting the inside of the side netting, low down just inside either post is often the target for a penalty taker.

According to Professor Riley's theory, it has a greater chance of being saved - as unless the ball is well struck, the keeper can still reach it - but it is easier to pull off.

"Penalty takers mention not thinking too deeply, yet trying to fool the goalkeeper," he says.

"We do many things on two levels, such as thinking where to put the ball, or where to fake it, but not thinking about what the feet, legs and body will do to achieve it.”

"The more we practise, the more our actions become automatic skills - unconscious memories of how to react.”

"These memories take over when thinking fails, such as in front of 80,000 fans."

So has Professor Riley finally found the answer to England’s penalty shoot-out woes?

The Three Lions have lost five of their six penalty shoot-outs in major tournaments including two defeats at the hands of Germany and Portugal respectively.

Is it a mental block, the pressure, fear of defeat or even just a lack of skill? Many players, coaches, pundits and supporters have added their opinions to the debate, but has Professor Riley found the answer?

How do you take the perfect penalty? Why do England struggle in penalty shoot-outs? Is Professor Riley’s solution accurate?

Let us know by leaving a comment in the box below. Alternatively, share your thoughts with other readers in the 50connect forums.

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