World Cup 2022: How to take a penalty in a shootout

A graphic showing where every penalty in World Cup shootouts has ended up
This is where all 279 World Cup penalties in shootouts have ended up

Ah penalties, you have to love them. Unless you lose, in which case they are the worst thing ever.

BBC Sport and Opta have crunched the numbers to see what we could learn about maximising your chances of scoring.

Pick a side

Your chances of scoring a penalty are much increased if you go to the right or left – but please avoid putting it down the middle.

Some 74% of penalties placed to the right, and the same percentage of those put to the left, go in. But penalties down the middle are only scored 57% of the time – that is a record of 36 from 63.

You have a similar chance of having a penalty saved whichever way you shoot (about 21%), but you are much, much likelier to miss the target down the middle.

Some 11% of central penalties hit the crossbar and another 11% go over. Go left or right and those numbers drop to 3% and 1% respectively.

Going high is usually better too.

So if you take one thing from this article – we’re looking at you, England players – PICK A SIDE.

Take one of the first penalties

A graph of the success rate for each penalty-taker in World Cup shootouts, showing the fourth is the most likely to be missed of the first five
The success rate for each penalty-taker in World Cup shootouts

This shouldn’t be too surprising since the best penalty takers usually go first (unless you’re Cristiano Ronaldo).

The conversion rates for the first three penalties by each team are 75%, 73% and 73% respectively. Penalty four goes in 64% of the time and number five is 65%.

Surprisingly, only two World Cup shootouts have gone to sudden death, with a 50% conversion rate from four kicks.

Splitting the different teams’ kickers out from one to 10, the most successful takers are the second and fifth – 77% each. Number eight has the worst rate out of the first 10 – 61%.

The team to take the first kick does not matter – with the team to go first and second winning 15 each.

Be a forward

Midfielders are the most common players to take a World Cup shootout penalty, probably not surprising as most teams – especially in the 4-4-2 days – have more midfielders than forwards.

But forwards are the most successful kickers, with 63 of 84 scoring (75%). Of the 122 midfielders to take one, 84 have scored (69%). For defenders, the total drops to 49 of 73 (67%).

The success rate of the eight countries to take part in the most World Cup penalty shootouts
The success rate of the eight countries to take part in the most World Cup penalty shootouts

Be German (or Argentine)

It is a cliche, but Germany are the best country at taking penalties at World Cups, winning all four shootouts – against France (1982), Mexico (1986), England (1990) and Argentina (2006).

They have scored 17 of their 18 kicks – with Uli Stielike the only one to miss in the first World Cup penalty shootout between West Germany and France.

Of course, they’ve already gone out. So if you can’t be German, be Argentine. They have also scored a joint-record 17 penalties – but that is out of 22. They have won four out of five, only losing to Germany.

Three teams actually have a 100% success rate of scoring in penalty shootouts: Belgium, South Korea and Paraguay (all 5/5).

Don’t be English (or Swiss)

England have missed more penalties in World Cup shootouts than anybody else – eight (out of 19).

Gareth Southgate’s side’s win against Colombia in 2018 was their first success.

Their three spot-kick defeats remains a joint high with Spain and Italy (all W1 L3).

But the worst team to take part in a World Cup penalty shootout is Switzerland, who missed all three kicks against Ukraine in 2006. They are the only team to take part in a shootout and fail to score any penalties.

Be right-footed

There isn’t a huge difference but right-footed penalties go in 71% of the time, with 68% of those taken with a left foot netted.

Right-footed penalties are much more common – 223 compared with 56 left-footed. Unsurprisingly, nobody has taken a penalty with their head…

Don’t be a late sub (unless you’re a keeper)

Teams occasionally bring on players just for the penalty shootout.

It is hard to gauge who has come on purely for penalties, but of the players to come on in the second half of extra time and take a penalty, five out of eight (63%) have scored.

Of those to come on in the final 10 minutes, it is two out of three (67%). The final five minutes and we are down to one out of two (50%).

The least successful example is Jamie Carragher, who replaced Aaron Lennon in the 118th minute of England’s 2006 World Cup quarter-final against Portugal.

He scored his kick before the whistle was blown so had to retake it, and Ricardo tipped his second on to the bar – one of the keeper’s three saves in that shootout.

“The referee said he never blew his whistle so I had to wait until after he blew it. I didn’t realise. I obviously don’t take that many,” the Liverpool legend told BBC Sport afterwards.

There is no doubt about the most successful substitute for a shootout ever – goalkeeper Tim Krul for the Netherlands against Costa Rica in the 2014 quarter-finals.

He replaced Jasper Cillessen in the 121st minute and – with plenty of mind games – went on to save two penalties as the Dutch won.

Will anyone try the same trick in Qatar this winter?

Graphics by Andrew Dicks and Lee Martin

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