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There's little luck in the science of penalty shootouts

Leo Messi?s tandem penalty with Suarez has gone down in history By Mitch Phillips MARSEILLE, France (Reuters) ? Thirty years ago this we ...

Messi Penalty Science
Leo Messi’s tandem penalty with Suarez has gone down in history

By Mitch Phillips

MARSEILLE, France (Reuters) - Thirty years ago this week Antonin Panenka settled the first European championship penalty shootout, patenting the nonchalant dink over a committed keeper, as Czechoslovakia beat West Germany 5-3 after a 2-2 draw.

Since then a further 14 Euro matches have been decided by shoot-outs, two in each of the last three tournaments.

With this year's expanded format featuring 15 one-off games compared to seven since 1996, it is a near-certainty that a nation's joy or despair and an individual player's career will be defined by 10 shots from 12 yards.

Like many other aspects of top-level sport, some players, and some nationalities, seem to thrive under the ultimate test of nerve and technique under pressure. And others melt.

After their win in 1976, Czechoslovakia and then the Czech Republic, took part in two more Euro shoot-outs, winning both, and have yet to miss a single attempt.

The Germans obviously learnt from that experience and quickly became the masters, subsequently winning four out of four in the World Cup and beating England in their only other Euros shoot-out in the 1996 semis.

That, of course, is no particular achievement as the country which invented the sport has become firmly established as a laughing stock in shootouts.

In the World Cup and Euros they have managed to lose six out of seven, their sole success coming against Spain in the Euro 96 quarter-finals.

Others too have come to dread the shoot-out, with the Netherlands losing five out of seven and Italy five out of eight, although they boast the unique feat of both losing (1994) and winning (2006) a World Cup final on a shootout.

So if the Czechs and the Germans never lose and rarely miss, while England and the Netherlands almost always lose and always miss, it is surely time to dismiss the commonly-expressed idea that the whole thing is a "lottery."

"Penalty shootouts have generated a large amount of peer reviewed papers in recent years in an effort to arrive at optimal strategies for both the penalty taker and the goalkeeper," data analyst Robert O’Connor said.

"Strikers have around an 83 percent success rate while defenders have only 73 percent," added O'Conner who writes on the use of statistical analysis to gain an edge in sports betting at www.onlinegamblingbible.com.

"Players under 22 are successful 85 percent of the time, while their older team mates convert about 78 percent."

Almost 30 percent of shoot-out penalties are missed, a much higher percentage than in open play. This no doubt reflects the nerves involved and the fact that penalties are frequently taken by players who never usually perform the task.

Glenn Hoddle, England’s manager in the 1998 World Cup, dismissed the idea of practicing them as he felt it was impossible to reproduce the tension and pressure of the real thing.

So it was hardly a surprise that David Batty, who later admitted to never having taken a penalty in his life, was one of those to miss as England lost out to Argentina.

Even centre back Gareth Southgate's mother was left to ask her son, whose only previous penalty three years earlier hit a post 'Why didn't you just belt it?' after his feeble effort ended England's Euro 96 dream.

It was also no surprise that Gary Lineker, who took 50 penalties in a session the day before, dispatched his without fuss in the 1990 World Cup semi-final shootout defeat to the Germans or that Alan Shearer ("I practiced penalties every day") scored three out of three in England shoot-outs.

Ireland defender David O’Leary said he used to end every training session by taking one single penalty, putting it in the same place every time.

When it came to the real thing, the decisive attempt in a World Cup second-round clash with Romania in the 1994 World Cup, there were no second thoughts as he duly dispatched it in exactly the spot he had been hitting for a month.

It was later voted the greatest moment in Irish football history and O'Leary, duly sanctified, is assured of free Guinness for life.

Southgate got to do a pizza advert with his head in a brown paper bag.

(Editing by Adrian Warner.)

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