It can be a long walk to the penalty box. Thousands of people watchin’ and shoutin’. It’s the longest 12 yards in sport.
Lucy Bronze is one of the top-ranked female footballers in the world. As England captain, she knows a thing or two about penalties.
But, is taking a penalty a show of a team’s quality or just luck?
Taking a penalty is the ultimate test of a player’s nerve.
The long walk from the halfway line to the penalty spot can turn player’s legs to jelly. Very few players are exceptional at taking penalties.
On average, about 73% of penalties are scored in shootouts and 78% in matches.
Even Lionel Messi, one of the best strikers in the world, is distinctly average at converting penalties.
This suggests penalties are more about luck than skill.
Most football fans believe that Germany is exceptionally good at penalties and England, exceptionally bad.
But, data shows that the current England players have had better conversion rates, though from a very small sample.
So, how do you win a penalty shootout?
We’ve mapped every successful World Cup penalty scored in shootouts.
The heat map shows that shooting left or right is the most popular option for penalty takers.
The top corners of the goal are the hardest areas to aim for, but the reward is that just two percent of these top corner shots are saved.
That may work for star strikers, but for less skillful players, it’s best to hoof the ball high and in the center.
One of the England goalkeepers was telling me that there’s a lot of people now who do go down the middle, just hit it as hard as they can,
but I think if you hit it down the middle, you’re gonna look stupid if the keeper just stands there and just goes, thank you very much.
Then, everyone goes, why didn’t you go at the side?
Analysis suggests that the most important part of a penalty shootout is the coin toss.
Winning the toss means that you can choose to go first, and in a standard shootout, the team that goes first wins 60% of the time.
So, whether you have a Messi or a Bronze on your team, the odds come down to a simple coin flip.