The Science of Penalty Kicks


It’s hard to believe that there was a time when Football matches were played without the penalty kick rule. The Football Association was officially formed in 1863, but it wasn’t until sometime later, in 1891, that penalties were added to the official rulebook.

The concept was thought up by William McCrum, who played for Millford FC in the Irish Football League. The Irish goalkeeper proposed the idea as a way of combating the practice of tactical fouling in the penalty area as a way of stopping goals from being scored. The FA took to the idea, and penalty kicks have since become a massive part of the modern game.

A penalty can turn a game upside down, and without it, we would have never been treated to these unforgettable footballing moments:

The good: Antonin Panenka – Czechoslovakia vs West Germany, 1976

Antonin Panenka – Czechoslovakia vs West Germany, 1976

The famed ‘Panenka’ penalty that has since been copied by various different football superstars. The original Panenka came during a penalty shoot-out in the 1976 European Championship final, after Uli Hoeneß ballooned West Germany’s fourth kick over the bar, which meant Panenka only had to score to win his country the cup.

The talented midfielder feigned to the left, sending the goalkeeper on his way, before calmly chipping the ball down the middle, with what was quite possibly the most iconic penalty kick ever scored.

The bad: John Terry – Chelsea vs Manchester United, 2008

John Terry – Chelsea vs Manchester United, 2008

After Cristiano Ronaldo missed his penalty, it was down to club captain John Terry to hand Chelsea their very first Champions League victory. After perfect spot kicks from Michael Ballack, Juliano Belletti, Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole, it seemed to be Chelsea’s night, but Terry slipped as he hit the ball, sending it crashing against the post and out, and subsequently handing the opposition a way back in to the tie.

United went on to lift the trophy, and that slip is now a defining moment in Terry’s illustrious career. However, Chelsea did eventually go on to lift the Champions League trophy.

While the outfield players are usually hailed as heroes following a penalty shoot-out victory, the man between the sticks also plays a massive role in determining the eventual outcome, as former-Chelsea shot-stopper Petr Cech proved during the club’s historic 2012 victory over Bayern Munich.
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“I’ll have all the information I need for a penalty shootout,” Cech stated prior to the game, “I’ve been watching the tapes of Bayern’s games. I’ve seen everything I can.”

petr cech save

As it later transpired, the Czech keeper had watched two hours of footage containing every single penalty Bayern Munich had taken since 2007, and the preparation certainly paid off. The game went to penalties, and despite conceding the first three, he guessed the right way every time, eventually securing Chelsea the victory.

Funnily enough, it is a preparation technique also used by the man who replaced Cech at Chelsea this summer, Asmir Begovic.

Asmir Begovic

The Bosnian keeper instructed, “Doing your homework will give you the best possible chance to save one. As an amateur player this might be difficult, but if you can watch your opponents striking a ball, that would be a massive help.”

Manchester United keeper Victor Valdes

Although, according to Manchester United keeper Victor Valdes, simply knowing which way a player is going to shoot isn’t enough if you don’t know what to do next. The former-Barcelona man believes that there is one skill that puts goalkeepers in a better position than any psychological advantage that they might be able to gain – simply being able to make saves.

“The most important thing about being a goalkeeper is making saves,” he stated, “You must be well balanced with your feet firmly planted on the ground, which helps you to react quickly and move in each direction.”

With 39 major trophy wins between them, Valdés, Cech and Begovic are undoubtedly ranked among the world’s best goalkeepers, and any tips they have are likely to put you in good stead for your next penalty shoot-out, whether you’re a budding professional or a Sunday League footballer.


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