Soccer matches can often be decided in the cruelest of fashions, by penalties. Whether it was an accidental hand ball in the box that leads to a last minute penalty to decide a match, or whether a lazy tournament match has expired and must be settled through the dreaded penalty shootout, knowing how to step up and cleanly score from 12 yards can be the difference between winning and losing a tournament.
So what is the best way to take a penalty? You can aim for the upper 90 corner and blast away, or calmly ease it into a lower corner, or you can even do the cheeky chip down the middle like Andre Pirlo converted at EURO 2012 against England. Where should you aim?
Studies show that most success is to be found by aiming at your “natural side.” The natural side is how you kick strongest. Thus if you are right footed, you would aim to the left as the ball would drive hard with the follow through of your leg. Your shot would be most likely to hit the target.
There is a catch, however. The goalkeeper is likely to take note and dive in that way, thus increasing the odds of a save. And so the cat and mouse game begins. Suppose you decided to aim right to fool the goalie? Suppose he reckons this as well and dives to his left to save.
These are the types of questions that make the penalty shootout so much fun, because there is no “correct” answer. All that matters is if you score.
However, the likelihood of your missing the goal can be limited if you refrain from aiming for the top corner. Yes, it is the most inspiring way of scoring, but there is also a grave danger of clearing the bar if you don’t hit the ball just right. Aiming for bottom corners does prove to be the most successful plan. The goalie will struggle to get low in time, and your odds of scoring are highest.
The surprising bit of information though is that the best penalty takers actually do not know which way they will aim as they run up to the ball. The method works brilliantly because many keepers have a pre-determined guess either left or right for a kick. If the shooter notices that the goalie is set to jump in one direction (maybe by a slight twitch or movement) then you can calmly place the ball the other way. Or as Pirlo demonstrated, you can go right down the center, which is likely to destroy the goalie’s confidence.
Either way, the most important thing is to not lose your nerve. Taking a penalty is a massive challenge that can stir up all sorts of butterflies. The main thing to do is focus at the object at hand. Simply put the ball in the net, that is all that matters. Forget about the game, forget about your parents and friends, and just take your shot!