World Cup 2014: The Fail-Safe System To Winning On Penalties

Don't take Alan Shearer's advice and hit it hard down the middle. There's more to winning a shoot-out than meets the eye, as this 8 step guide from author Ben Lyttleton proves 

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1. MAKE SURE YOU’VE EQUALIZED TO FORCE PENALTIES
Momentum plays a big part in the shoot-out and the examples of Liverpool, in 2005, and Chelsea, in 2012, coming from behind in Champions League finals to win on penalties is nothing new. The team that scored last in the game has a 62 per cent more chance to win on penalties, while the team that suffered the blow of conceding the last goal of the game sees its conversion rate drop to 72 per cent once the shoot-out begins.

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2. THE KEEPER SHOULD BE ON YOUR FIVE TAKERS
Stuart Pearce claims that Joe Hart has soncistently been one of England’s best penalty-takers in training. Four goalscoring goalkeepers — Ricardo, Hans-Jorg Butt, Alex Stepney and Jose Luis Chilavert —all said the same thing: goalkeepers can spot the weakness in their opposite number, and should take more penalties in shoot-outs than they do.

3. WIN THE TOSS AND KICK FIRST
If there’s some luck involved, it comes before a kick has been taken. The team who kicks first is 60 per cent more likely to go and win the shoot-out — in part because the conversion rates for penalties ‘to stay in the shoot-out’ drops to 62 per cent in major tournaments, while the rate to win the shoot-out rises to 92 per cent. It shows the difference between thinking about positive, as opposed to negative, consequences when taking a penalty.

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4. DON'T OVER-THINK IT ON THE WALK
A neurological professor divided a roomful of golfers in two, and had them all holing putts from the same distance. They then had a five-minute break, during which half the golfers wrote down every aspect of their putts, and the other half looked at pictures of beaches and cars. They all then putted again, and the golfers who had focused on the golf in the break all hit far worse putts second time around. It shows that over-thinking a task can lead to a negative result — so players need to have a strategy of what to think about on the dreaded walk to the spot. Focusing on the process — their routine, rather than the outcome, is a good start.

5. DON’T RELY ON YOUR SUPERSTARS
Think of big players who have missed penalties at the peaks of their career: Roberto Baggio, Michel Platini, Lionel Messi, Diego Maradona, David Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo, Socrates, Andriy Shevchenko and Raul. You might think that’s because they are the ones taking the big penalties, and therefore more likely to miss. But these are in games that make or break seasons, when the pressure is highest. Studies have shown that players ‘of high status’, like those who have won individual awards, have a worse record in penalties than players who are merely ‘part of the team’.

6. MAKE THE KICKER WAIT… BUT NOT TOO LONG
Studies show that making a kicker wait for between two and four seconds before the referee blows his whistle reduces penalty conversion rates to 61 per cent in major tournaments. If you wait longer than that, the effects don’t work as the player will often restart his pre-kick routine. A short wait — but long enough — can play tricks when it comes to pressure kicks.

7. BE PREPARED TO MISS AND MOVE ON
Around 78 per cent of all penalties are scored, but that figure drops to 71 per cent as the pressure increases in a World Cup shoot-out. The chances are, therefore, that one player will miss in the shoot-out. This does not automatically spell disaster; it’s to be expected, and does not mean that the fates are against a team. All it means is that better score the next one.

8. BEWARE THE PANENKA
Andrea Pirlo’s chipped penalty down the middle of the goal swung the momentum Italy’s way during the Euro 2012 shoot-out. Ashley Young missed England’s next kick. One night earlier, Sergio Ramos had pulled off the same penalty, known as a Panenka after Antonin Panenka, the Czech playmaker whose chip won Czechoslovakia the 1976 European Championship, and Bruno Alves, next up for Portugal also missed. The psychological value of a scored Panenka penalty can be worth more than one goal, because of the boost it gives to the scoring team, and the opposite effect it has on the conceding side.

Twelve Yards — The Art and Psychology of the Perfect Penalty by Ben Lyttleton (Bantam) is out now