Penalties: Ultimate guidelines

Massive research of penalties by InStat

Since 2009 almost 100,000 penalty shots have been taken on football pitches around the globe. 75.49% of those resulted in goals, 17.57% were saved by goalkeepers, 4.07% went wide and 2.87% hit posts or crossbars. The scoring ratio could be better if players and coaches were aware of the receipt of the most efficient penalty shot. InStat analyzed all penalties in the database, answering the key questions through the research:
·         Who should take penalties?
·         Where should you direct penalty shots?
·         What does the best penalty shot look like?


Sex: Male
Age: 30+
Position: Forward/Attacking midfielder
Foot: Left
Nationality group: Asia
Zodiac: Leo
Penalty experience: Regular penalty taker/Scorer of the team

Sex: Males are more accurate than females

Males have scored on 75.57% of penalties, while females succeeded on 73.65%. Therefore 24.43% and 26.35% of shots have been missed. Furthermore, male athletes are more accurate not only in terms of actual scoring. Their shots have a better chance to be on goal or to the post/crossbar (95.97%): male players miss only 4.03% of their penalty shots. Female athletes miss 5.5% of those.

Age: The more experienced - the better.

According to the statistical analysis, 32-33-year-old players are the most accurate ones - 77.13%. In addition, the player who is at least 30 years old misses, fails to score only on 24.86% of penalties. The least reliable shooters are younger players, 18-19-year-old ones. A miss probability rises up to 25.45%.

Things are quite different in international matches. If the penalty shot opportunity comes in national team matchups, one should turn to a 28-29-year-old player. Those score on 78.79% of occasions. The 2nd-best age segment is 30-31-year-old players - 78.71% of success. Those are followed by players from 18 to 21 years old. Younger athletes, who are invited to their national teams, normally convert these opportunities efficiently. It is noteworthy the veterans’ efficiency falls significantly in national team games: players of the age of 34 or older fail to score on almost 30% of penalties (29.63% - 34-35 y. o., 31.94% - 35+ y. o.).

Position: The closer the player performs to the opposing goal, the better scoring ratio he has in penalties.

Almost a half of all penalty shots is taken by midfielders - a total of 45,326 attempts. Forwards have a share of 32,140 shots, while defenders together with goalkeepers shoot only 15% of all attempts.

Forwards are better shooters, converting almost 76% of attempts. These guys are also the rarest to miss wide at the goal - 3.68% - with about 2.59% of attempts also hitting a crossbar. The attackers are followed by a huge group - central, defensive and flank midfielders. Flank midfielders are the worst among fielders in beating goalkeepers - an impressive 18.20% of their shots from the spot are being saved by goalies.

Shooting foot: Lefties have a slight edge over righties - 0.36%.

Lefties also hold a slightly better conversion numbers - 76.15% over 75.79%. Given such a thin margin of efficiency difference, we can infer the foot - left or right - does not really affect the chances of penalty shot conversion. It is worth mentioning, 73,000 of 91,000 shots we analyzed were conducted by right-footed players.

Max Kruse from Germany, who plays for Werder Bremen, is the most accurate lefty. He is yet to miss a penalty shot in his entire career. The forward’s first penalty came on April 7th, 2012. He has produced 23 more perfect kicks from the spot since then.
Such a deadly executor can be found among righties as well. Hamza Lahmar is a Tunisian athlete with a 100% of penalties converted. He plays for the Tunisian club of Etoile du Sahel. From December 2015 to September 2018 he has attempted 21 shots from the spot with not missing a single of these.

Nationality group: Asians are the best, North Americans - the worst

If we ignore the fact the most Asian players do not perform in major leagues around the world, which means we analyze bold stats regardless of power of the competition, the following statement can be made: Asian athletes are the most reliable penalty shooters. Europe trails by a whisker - 0.24%.

Speaking of Asian leagues, the Japanese J1 League and the Chinese Superleague are in top-4 worldwide in terms of penalties scored in national championships. The Japanese tournament leads the field with 80.99% conversion rate, while Chinese league sits 4th on the list with a number of 78.60%. Switzerland (80.45%) and Poland (78.60%) are second and third respectively.

Zodiac: Leos are the most reliable ones, Capricorns cannot be trusted.

Robert Lewandowski is one of the best penalty shooters in the history of the world football: 49 attempts, 46 goals. His personal high stands at 31 converted penalties in a row. The Polish forward was born on August 21st, 1988, which makes Leo his zodiac sign. That fact validates our statistical thesis: Leos are the most reliable penalty shooters.

Between July 23rd and August 21st some more notable players were born: Harry Kane, Hulk, Daniele de Rossi, Artyom Dzyuba. All these athletes are quality shooters from the spot. Luka Modric and Jerome Boateng are Virgos, while Antoine Griezmann together with Luis Adriano and Sergio Ramos represent Aries.

Experience: A tenured penalty shooter x scorer x streak = the maximum chance of scoring

The more often a player shoots from the spot, the better his conversion rate is. A tenured penalty shooter is the one, who kicks on 75% of opportunities from the spot on the team.

Such player converts 77.29% of penalties. It is worth mentioning that players who have penalty shooting experience in their clubs are also better in executing those in national team games as well. Such “tenured” guys convert 78.13% of opportunities for their national teams.

The more player scores from the spot, the better chance he has to convert those opportunities. The player, who repeatedly scores open play goals, has an 80% chance of succeeding on the game’s most dangerous set piece.

Still, there is a nuance. After a tenured penalty shooter misses from the spot, the next shot becomes more difficult for him due to psychology. According to statistics, a miss probability increases with every missed shot in a row. After a missed penalty an average shooter converts 76.42% of opportunities. If there are 2 misses in a row, the scoring chance drops to 74.39%, while after 3 consecutive misses the number stands at 63.64%. Some players manage to cope with that kind of pressure. Bafetimbi Gomis of Galatasaray is a perfect example. After 3 missed penalties in a row throughout the Turkish Superleague season, he was able to make one. Others continue to fail. Yannick Carrasco has seen 2 saved penalties and another one hitting the post. He followed that streak with the shot directly to the keeper in Atletico-Osasuna game. The next penalty for the Belgian came a year later in Chinese league.

The “rule” works on the opposite as well. The longer the scoring streak, the higher the chance to score again.

Let us take a close look at the belief, that the player who drew the foul should be a kicker. That is not necessarily the best option. In fact it is not: the fouled player has a 0.17% less chance to succeed. The number stands at 75.33%. A tenured shooter is a better option - as we have already mentioned, he will succeed on 77.33% of chances.


Zone: Left\right corner
Height: High

The best way to avoid a miss is to direct your shot to the center of the goal. In that scenario miss ratio is only 1.63%. Still, a goalkeeper has quite a chance to conduct a save - 21.28%. A number of goalies aim to leave their feet at the center even when diving towards a corner. They cover a big chunk of lower frame by doing so. Furthermore, if a keeper remains in the middle, chances for a save top at 32.65%. Going for one of the corners increases scoring chance dramatically.

Partly that problem with keepers covering a lot of space down low with their feet could be solved by a high shot. Still, that is the most risky type of shot. If a shooter aims to send the ball over goalkeeper’s head, even if the keeper stays at the center of the frame, conversion rate is only 71.51%. About 20.63% of shots hit the crossbar, while 6.56% go wide.

Shots to the top right corner is also a difficult one with 21.99% of shots are not converted (12.06% hit the post/crossbar, 9.93% go wide). Surprisingly shots to the top left corner have a way better chance to go in. Only 6.62% goes wide and 9.68% hits a post or a crossbar. That is the most efficient shot with scoring rate standing at 83.53%.

There are some remarkable players among those who opts to shoot to the top left corner from the spot: Cristiano Ronaldo, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Sebastian Giovinco, Hulk, Harry Kane.

Our research also answers the following question: is it better to place a shot closer to either the post or the crossbar? The answer is no. The conversion ratio is barely influenced, while risks of failing to score increases dramatically.

*We established a separate criteria for such shots, based on which shots should go closer to the post or the crossbar. We limited the shot placement zone - it should be in 1 meter or less from the post or the crossbar. In order to consider shots that went wide, the research zone was widened also to 1 meter around posts and the crossbar.


Method: accuracy priority
Number of steps: 5<
Run-up speed: Medium

The “power” shot method is the least reliable one. In 28% of occasions it does not become a score. The “accuracy” shots are way more efficient: the softer the shot, the better the chance to score. 

One of the ways to conduct a save is to predict the shot direction by the shooter’s run-up. That has led to a stereotype occurrence: the shorter the run-up, the harder for a goalie to predict the shot direction. The Portuguese Pedro Pauleta and the Argentinian Diago Perotti are among those who shoot penalties wit almost no run-up steps.

Still, the numbers indicate the contrary. Long run-ups - with a minimum of 5 steps - increase the scoring chance.

The run-up should not be fast, otherwise the chance to score drops by over 2%. The shooter should find a middle ground in order to prevent misses like the one by Simone Zaza at Euro-2016. By the way, the conversion rate after a jogging run-up stands at 74.33%. The brightest shooter in such manner is Paul Pogba - 11 of 14 penalties converted. 

During the run-up it is better to look at the goalkeeper, not focusing on the ball like, for example, Marcelo Brozovic from Croatia NT. The conversion chance increases almost by 7%, standing at 75.96%. 

With his eyes on the goalkeeper, the shooter might change his mind regarding the shot placement during his run-up. That is why the run-up speed and the number of steps matters. Goalkeepers concede more goals when the ball is directed to over their left shoulder - 83.33%. The 2nd most effective area for shooters is to the keepers’ right knees. 75.00% to over the right knee and 74.35% to under the right knee.


The hardest shot - 3rd

Regardless of the tournament type: national cup, continental cup or international tournament. The most frequently scored - 2nd shot attempt, the least - 3rd.

The infamous miss by Roberto Baggio in the shootout at FIFA World Cup 1994 came on the 5th shot. David Beckham missed the 1st shot of the shootout in England-Portugal matchup at Euro-2004, Rui Costa failed on the 3rd shot. At FIFA World Cup 2014 the Netherlands could not score on their 1st and 3rd shots, allowing Argentina to the Finals. In Copa America 2016 finals Arturo Vidal and Lionel Messi both failed to score in the penalty shootout before Lucas Biglia producing the decisive no-score on the 4th attempt.

If series go on to over 5 shots for each side, the 3rd shot also is the one players succeed the least on. 8th shots of shootouts, which are 3rd ones after initial 5 shots, do not result in scores in 29.4% of cases. After 12th shots in shootouts, players who attempt their 2nd shots of the shootout, are failing to score a lot under psychological pressure. The conversion rate drops all the way down to the 68.2% mark.

The starting side is the winning side

The Spanish economists figured this thesis in the year of 2010 - the starter is the winner. They analyzed 269 penalty shootouts. The research showed the team that starts shootouts wins on 60.5% of occasions. The number is quite inflated, though. The study by InStat shows that in 2000 penalty shootouts the starting side succeeded way less - only on 51.48% of the time.

Starting series is harder by 0.71%. Goalkeepers who go to the frame first, save 18.56% of shots. Their vis-a-vis save 17.82% of attempts.


The best penalty saver portrait

Sex: Female
Age: 30-31
Foot/hand: Either
Nationality group: America
Zodiac: Libra
Experience: Active rotation member

Sex: Women concede less goals than men

As already mentioned, males have scored on 75.57% of penalties, while females succeeded on 73.65%. Therefore, 24.43% and 26.35% of shots have been missed. Talking about saves, women also have a slight edge over men - 17.75% vs 17.55%.

Age: Does not matter

Top-5 scorers are 30 y. o. or older, while among goalkeepers quite a dispersion can be seen. Two best saver categories age-wise are experienced keepers, the 3rd place is occupied by goalies under 18 y. o. Goalkeepers of 26-27 y. o. are fourth-best, followed by 35 or older colleagues. 

Foot/hand: Difference is 0.13%

Formally righties shoot better than lefties. Still, the margin is so small, the edge becomes quite irrelevant.

Largely the value of “lefty/righty” metrics is decreased because of 53.98% of all saves being made by both hands. A huge advantage of righties can be seen only in terms of saves with feet - 10.62% vs 5.31% .

Zodiac: Libra

Leos are born for penalties. They are the best shooters, being 2nd-best keepers. Only Libras are better in saving those - 25.67%. Aries are 3rd-best in both categories.

Experience: The less you play, the more you concede

Goalkeepers do a better job when they have a regular workload. That is true for basic in-game situations as well as for penalty saves. Statistically, keepers who play at least in 3 of 4 games of the team, are more reliable than others. They save 18.18% shots from the spot, while they are the toughest to score against - 74.67%. Those goalies who do not play a lot concede penalties in 76.06% of cases.

Practice and in-game experience help to react on penalties correctly. Undoubtedly a lot depends on the shot itself. Still, if the attempt is not a better one, it is important for the keeper to do his best in order to not deflect the ball in front of himself, to control the bounce when possible. 

The majority of keepers succeed in doing so - 49.34% of saves go to the side, 67.37% of bounces are controlled ones.

In theory, experienced penalty savers rely more on their reaction rather than on getting lucky. That is why they aim to make a save by reacting on the shot, not by diving to one of the corners on a guess. Stats reflect that. If the keeper relies on his reaction, save chances go up.


League with best penalty shooters: Japanese J1 League

Almost 81% of penalties in Japan are being converted to goals. The closest tournament from UEFA top-5 is EPL with a 77.53% of conversion rate. In total there are 9 more tournaments between those two, meaning the English championship is outside the top-10 worldwide.

In UEFA top-10 rating, based on numbers till October 26th, 2018, England is the best. The UEFA rating leading Spain is only 6th in our chart. 

Top-10 teams whose penalty shots are almost a verdict for the opposition: 

Best penalty shooter: Robert Lewandowski, Rickie Lambert, Max Kruse

InStat selection includes penalty shots, attempted from 2009 till 2018. That is why the rating does not mention the legendary Southampton midfielder Matthew Le Tissier. He is the 1st midfielder to score 100 career goals in EPL. In all Le Tissier has scored 209 goals, 48 of which came from penalties. Throughout his career the Englishman attempted 49 shots from the spot, with a single save being made by Mark Crossley of Nottingham Forest in 1993.

Max Kruse is the best penalty shooter among active players. Through his career he has attempted 24 shots from the spot, while not failing on any. His streak goes on for 6 years as for now: it started on April 7th, 2012. Ricky Lambert once scored from 30 penalty shots in a row - from May 2nd, 2009 till August 3rd, 2014. Robert Lewandowski was perfect on 31 consecutive attempts - April 8th, 2015 - February 17th, 2018.