When Lionel Messi stepped up to the spot on Saturday, there were already murmurs about the Argentine’s rather mediocre penalty record. Those murmurs turned into screams when Messi struck a meek penalty which was easily saved by Iceland goalkeeper (and film director) Hannes Thor Halldorsson.
Immediately after the missed shot, the internet was awash with Messi’s penalty statistics especially in comparison to a certain Portuguese forward. Apart from the usual Messi-Ronaldo debates, penalties have become a vital part of this World Cup.
Already by Tuesday, eight penalties have been awarded- a number that will likely be obsolete by the time this article is published. In fact, the current penalties-per-game rate is 0.57% which is the highest of any World Cup.
Penalties will become even more important as we get to the knockout stages when shootouts will start to occur. Thus, it is pertinent to look at the best penalty takers in the World Cup. To do this, I decided to rank every World Cup player who took more than ten penalties in the last five years in the top five European leagues.
19 players qualified on this basis and then they were ranked based on the percentage of penalties they had scored (data was extracted from transfermarkt.com which excludes shootouts).
#19 Gonzalo Higuaín (73.07%)
While Messi’s penalty record has been scrutinized endlessly, he isn’t the worst regular penalty taker on his team. Gonzalo Higuaín has always struggled from the spot throughout his career.
The Argentine striker was originally the designated penalty taker for Real Madrid in the 2008-09 season, before Cristiano Ronaldo’s arrival. After the Portuguese’s arrival, Higuaín would not take another penalty until a move to Napoli.
Higuaín really struggled in the 2014-15 season, when he only managed to make five out of nine penalties. That summer, Higuaín missed what was arguably the most important penalty of his career in the Copa America final against Chile as the Albiceleste lost another tournament final.
The Juventus striker also missed a vital penalty against Tottenham in the Champions League Round of 16. An excellent striker, Higuaín is often unfairly criticized for his misses in tournament finals for Argentina. Yet if there is one place where the contempt for Higuaín is justified, it is at the penalty spot.