There has been uproar from around the world from fans, spectators and analysts about the penalty shootout between Portugal and Spain because of the fact that Christiano Ronaldo, arguably the best player in Europe, did not take a penalty kick since he was chosen to shoot fifth. Spain closed out the win before Ronaldo could even affect the outcome of the game.
Anyone who knows anything about soccer knows that the first shooter, especially for the team shooting second, is the most important spot. The percentages of winning the penalty shootout increase dramatically. The fact that Portugal shot second, and is at the risk of having a lower chance of winning just by shooting second, makes the decision to place Ronaldo kick fifth inexcusable. Let’s explore this topic a little further, in particular for those who are intrigued by objective measurements and analysis.
In research shown in Soccernomics, data was composed from 129 shootouts that tracked over 1,300 penalty kicks. If one had no knowledge of soccer and penalty kicks, it wouldn’t be surprising to believe that each team had a similar percentage to win the penalty shootout. This is not the case though. The data that was collected showed that the team that shoots first has a 60% chance of winning the penalty shootout. The data also highlighted that whoever shot second had an inferior shooting percentage and reliably longer probabilities to be in the lead of the penalty kicks after each round. This tells that there happens to be a substantial and constant plus to the team the shoots first in a penalty kicks. This is backed up from an article from the Journal of Management Science, concluded that the team that takes the lead first has a 21% advantage to win the shootout.
Now that we have gone over how important shooting first is for the team, and how important it is to score the first goal, a study done by researchers from Norway backs up the importance of individual players kicking in the first spot, and the importance for that player to be the team’s best player or penalty kick shooter. After data was collected, they concluded that the individual shooting scores a goal 92 percent of the time when it is tied or if a goal guarantees their team an instant victory.
However, if the kick taker must score to tie the shootout, when a miss will mean instant defeat, the percentage of making the kick lowers to 60 percent. “This to me is the key finding of all our studies,” said Geir Jordet, a professor at the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences in Oslo who has analyzed shootouts with fervor. “It demonstrates so clearly the power of psychology,” he said. They also found that percentages lower with each consecutive kick — 86.6 percent for the first kicker, 81.7 for the second, 79.3 for the third, etc.” Given that Spain was so much deeper than Portugal, Portugal should have been more aggressive in its lineup choices, increasing its chances of scoring and not simply playing a passive strategy by matching Spain kick for kick.
According to Ronaldo, Portugal manager, Paulo Bento, actually asked his star to shoot fifth. However, regardless of Ronaldo being a captain and one of the best players in the world, this was an epic fail on the part of both men. Ronaldo should know better, but this is not surprising that he wanted to shoot fifth, given the possibility of him being the hero for his country. Most of the blame must be put on Bento for setting his team up for failure.
In an effort to put the aforementioned research to use, here are the penalty shootout lineups that I would choose for Saturday’s final if the game remains scoreless after two periods of extra time.
Spain Penalty Kick Lineup
1) Andre Iniesta: So calm, so precise, the perfect mid-fielder and the perfect individual who should shoot first.
2) Xavi: Iniesta and Xavi are almost replicas of one another. Crucial to go 2-2.
3) Xabi Alonso: Even though he missed the PK against Portugal, he drilled one home against the French in the quarter-finals and has a history of being a successful shooter.
4) Gerald Pique: One of world’s best defenders gracefully put home a crucial goal against Portugal and there is no need to replace him.
5) Cesc Fabregas: He drilled home the clincher in the semi-final against Portugal and drilled home the winner against Italy in the quarter-finals in the 2008 EuroCup.
Italy Penalty Kick Lineup
1) Andrea Pirlo: Being one of the most gifted, crafty and accurate midfielders in the world, and after converting in the quarterfinals against England, Pirlo is a must in the top spot.
2) Antonio Di Natale: Even though some may remember his miss in the Euro 2008, he is one of the great finishers in the world after being amongst the league leaders in goals in the Serie A this past year.
3) Antonio Cassano: He is one of Italy’s most consistent threats up top, and he stays calm under the harshest pressure.
4) Daniele De Rossi: Experience. Calmness. Execution. All of these attributes are part of Di Rossi’s game and important for a shooter in the fourth spot.
5) Alessandro Diamanti: The West Ham forward has been tremendous this tournament and thrives under pressure.
(Photos Courtesy of Shaunt Botterill/Getty Images, The Sun (UK), Yahoo.com and The Irish Examiner)