Euro 2021: why penalties are not an unfair lottery


While Italy qualified for the final of Euro 2021 on Tuesday evening by beating Spain on penalties, former Roja defender Gerard Pique pointed to the injustice of a so-called process hazardous to decide between two teams. But is this recurring criticism founded?


France eliminated on penalties by Switzerland, itself eliminated on penalties by Spain, itself eliminated on penalties by Italy … For the third time in Euro 2021, neither regulation time nor overtime was enough Tuesday night to decide between two formations, leading to a much feared session of strikes at 11 meters. And for the third time in Euro 2021, this process has been singled out.

After the last shot scored by Jorginho and the Italian qualification (1-1, 4-2 tab), it was the former Spanish international Gerard Piqué who emigrated on social networks, attacking these “cruel” shoot to the net. “It is no coincidence that in four sessions played during the Euro or Copa America, the team that shot first won, he said on Twitter. Statistics say that the first has more chances to win and in a tournament like this it doesn’t feel right that a draw starts you at a disadvantage … “A recurring criticism, among others. But are these preconceived ideas about penalties founded?


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Is penalty shootout a lottery? Maybe a little, but better not to think so

“Shots on goal, it’s the lottery”: just after the defeat of France against Switzerland last week, Raphaël Varane pointed to the so-called chance that would govern a session. Others before him spoke of “rolling the dice”. A legitimate remark, insofar as the strongest team in the game, the one with the best squad on paper, is not always the one that prevails. But better get this idea out of your mind.


Geir Jordet, a Norwegian academic who specializes in the study of penalties, has relayed in recent days the results of many years of research. From interviews with players who took part in penalties, he found that those who felt the session was a lottery were more likely to be missed. On the contrary, the more a shooter will have the feeling of having his destiny in hand, of having control, the more he will be successful.

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Where Pique is right is the importance of shooting first … and therefore by extension of winning the coin toss. According to a study by Spanish economist Ignacio Palacios-Huerta, another specialist on the subject, the team that tries their luck first would have about a 60% chance of winning. The example of the fifth shot on goal is the most telling: in this case, the same study showed that the first team scored it in 76.2% of the cases, and that if it scored, then the percentage of success for the second – back to the wall – dropped … to 62.5. But here, obviously, we quickly reach the psychological aspect.


Is penalty shootout a psychological warfare? Certainly

The mind is undoubtedly the most important factor when it comes time to face the opposing goalkeeper, with the pressure of a whole stadium, even a whole country on the shoulders. Geir Jordet underlined several figures showing that this psychological aspect is decisive.

Note, for example, that the further you go in the session, the lower the success rate, because the pressure rises. For a first shot on goal transformed in about 85% of cases, it goes down to 75% for the fourth.


The stake of the potentially decisive shot also tilts the scales: a shooter who has the victory at the end of the foot scores in 92% of cases, while a shooter who must absolutely score to avoid defeat (Mbappé style against Switzerland ) succeeds in only 62% of cases. Better positive pressure than negative.

On top of that, the past plays its part. In the specific case of national teams, a player representing a country which has won its last two sessions scores on average 89% of the time. Conversely, a player representing a country which remains on two losses on penalties scores in 57% of cases. Well, it was not especially seen in this Euro 2021, since Switzerland and Spain were unable to follow up after their first victorious session.

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Stress always, the players who rush to place their ball, then strike at the whistle of the referee, undoubtedly to end it as quickly as possible, have a lower percentage of success. The last session of the Blues is a good example.

Otherwise, we also note that young players (under 23) have a higher percentage of success: they are less experienced, but are a priori less sensitive to the issues, and therefore to the surrounding pressure.


Are shots on goal a technical exercise? Yes too

In a session, there is therefore the role of the head, but also that of the legs. Still according to the statistics collected by Geir Jordet, we observe that the attackers – players used to hitting on goal – have more success at 11 meters than the midfielders, and especially the defenders. A sign that beyond the psychological aspect, a shot on goal is also a technical exercise.

Note that the players who played the entire 120 minutes have a lower success rate than those who entered during the match. Physical freshness is important. Just like … training.


“To achieve a penalty, you just have to train, and at least 150 times a year,” said Ignacio Palacios-Huerta in his work, with several concrete examples. Besides the useful work of the keepers up front, on anticipation, the placement of the opponent’s feet, or his habits, the Spaniard advised the other players to familiarize themselves with the whole process – and not just with the shooting. – like the long walk between the center line and the penalty spot. History that on D-day, the shooter is in a kind of routine, which limits the chances of failure.


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