This page contains summaries of the various academic studies that have been conducted ont he penalty shoot-out.

Our Research

Billsberry, J., Nelson, P., van Meurs, N. and Edwards, G. (2007) Are penalty shootouts racist? Paper presented at the 6th World Congress on Science and Football, Antalya, Turkey. Abstract published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, 6 (10), 98.

The acceptance of penalty shoot-outs in the knockout stages international football tournaments is based on the belief that they have face validity by involving a football skill, that they have a clear and quick decision criterion that settles the result shortly after the end of the game, and that they do not offer any in-built advantage to either of the competing nations. Following events in the 2006 World Cup, we decided to investigate whether there are grounds to believe that the results of penalty shoot-outs are predetermined. Specifically, we considered whether characteristics of national cultures explain the results of penalty shoot-outs and whether penalty shoot-outs offer an advantage to any nation. We gathered data from every competitive international penalty shoot-out (n=182). We included countries who had (1) competed in at least 5 shoot-outs, (2) taken at least 20 penalties, and (3) been involved in at least 2 penalty shoot-outs in major tournaments. Win/lose data from 16 countries were analyzed using the raw national culture scores of Hofstede.

One of Hofstede’s four national cultural dimensions – individualism/collectivism – strongly correlated with nations’ win/loss record (r=-.600, sig= .014, N=16). A regression analysis produced an Rsq of .395 indicating that this national cultural dimension explains almost 40% of the variance in the results of penalty shoot-outs with collectivism being favoured over individualism. These results demonstrate a strong national culture bias in favour of collectivist nations. One explanation is that players from individualist nations are more anxious and under greater stress due to the blame they will attract if they miss. Other explanations are associated with support and self-image. Given that this national culture dimension does not seem to underpin performance in regular play, the existence of this bias in penalty shoot-outs raises important concerns for their continued use.

Billsberry, J. and Nelson, P. (2007) Alternatives to the penalty shootout. Paper presented at the 6th World Congress on Science and Football, Antalya, Turkey. Abstract published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, 6 (10), 96.

Recent research into penalty shoot-outs indicates that they are not a pure lottery. For example, it is known that younger players are more effective than older ones during penalty shoot-outs (Jordet et al, 2006). Also there are concerns that individuals decide a team sport and that FIFA is considering alternatives. This paper draws on an analysis of tie-breaks in other sports, to identify key differences in the nature of alternatives to form a typology. In addition, this paper outlines the criteria that a replacement to penalty shoot-outs should satisfy in order to be a realistic alternative. The criteria are used to evaluate potential alternatives. We also draw on experience in other sports on acceptable tie-breaks. Following this, we conceptually categorise a range of alternatives comparing them to the acceptance criteria.

Analysis of other sports shows that there are three distinct forms of tiebreakers (assessment of prior performance, assessment of game performance, and post-game lotteries) and some hybrids. We advocate ten different criteria that a replacement to the penalty shoot-out should satisfy. These ten criteria are:

  1. It should have face validity by being a football-centred solution.
  2. It should be based on an objective assessment of something measurable.
  3. It should not produce a decision that is contentious.
  4. It should be easily understood and applied.
  5. It should involve the whole team, not individuals or groups of individuals.
  6. If it alters the manner in which the game is played, it should so in a manner that promotes attractive play.
  7. If possible, it should promote attractive play in all games in the tournament.
  8. It should not so exhaust players as to give them a disadvantage in subsequent games.
  9. It should not put players at an increased risk of injury.
  10. It should not offer an advantage to any nation, other than that based on their ability to play football.

Our analysis suggests that determining the result of the tiebreak before the game starts (e.g. best goal difference, highest number of goals scored in the competition) may improve the quality of the football both in the tied game and in previous games in the tournament. Awarding a minor score to ‘woodwork hits’ also looks fruitful although its introduction would raise questions about why a minor score isn't applied to all football matches. We suggest that the authorities may wish to test these alternatives.

Other Research: Journal Articles

Banerjee, A. N. and Swinnen, J. F. M. (2004) Does a sudden death liven up the game? Rules, incentives, and strategy in football. Economic Theory, 23, 411-421.

This paper considers the introduction of golden goal (aka sudden death) extra time to settle games that are drawn after 90 minutes. The particular focus is on whether golden goal extra time influences the nature of the football played in games in which it appears. The researchers analyse the matter through mathematical modelling of optimum strategies. Their analysis concludes that when teams of equal quality play each other, the optimum strategy is not to alter the mode of play. The researchers argue that rather than being a boost to attacking play, golden goal extra time should make no difference to the style of play. Reviewing this paper several years later, it is clear that the authors underestimated the impact of golden goal extra time as the authorities removed it in response to the overwhelmingly negative impact it had on games.

Carrillo, J. D. (????) Penalty shoot-outs: Before or after extra time? Journal of Sports Economics, Forthcoming.

One interesting alternative to holding a penalty shoot-out after 120 minutes to determine the result of tied games is to hold the penalty shoot-out after 90 minutes and then play the 30 minutes extra time. If the game ends level, the result of the penalty shoot-out is used to adjudge the winner. Theoretically, this approach would appear to have the benefit that it creates imbalance during the extra time; only two results are possible as one tem knows that a tie goes against them. Consequently, one team is forced to attack and this should prevent the stale defensive extra times of so many fixtures. Carrillo explores the issue via mathematical modelling and reaches the conclusion that this approach would increase the likelihood of attacking play during extra time.

Jordet, G., Hartman, E., Visscher, C. and Lemmink, K. A. P. M. (2006) Kicks from the penalty mark in soccer: The roles of stress, skill, and fatigue for kick outcomes. Journal of Sports Sciences, 1-9, Preview article.

This paper is an essential starting place for an analysis for the impact of penalty shoot-outs in competitive international football as it reports some empirical findings on events in penalty shoot-outs in the World Cup (WC), European Championships (EC) and the Copa America (CA). The results are fascinating; here is a glimpse. The percentage success rate in the World Cup is 71.2% compared to 82.7% (CA) and 84.6% (EC), possibly reflecting the greater importance and consequent pressure of the world stage. The success rate of each penalty kick changes throughout the competition:

  • First kick 86.6%
  • Second kick 81.7%
  • Third kick 79.3%
  • Fourth kick 72.5%
  • Fifth kick 80%
  • ‘Sudden death’ kicks 64.3%

These results highlight the increasing pressure as the competition progresses and may also highlight the ‘best player should go first’ fallacy. The idea of ‘getting off to a good start’ by putting the best penalty taker first appears wrong as there is least pressure on this kick.

The researchers looked at the percentage success rate of players of different positions. Attackers successfully convert 83.1% of their penalties, midfield players convert 79.6% and defenders convert 73.6%.

The length of time the players have been on the pitch is also important. If they have played 30 minutes of less, their success rate is 86.7%, although, of course, this might include the occasional substitution to put a good penalty taker on the pitch. Players who have played between 31 and 90 minutes successfully convert 81.9% of penalties, and players who play longer than 91 minutes, convert 80% of their chances.

Age also seems important with younger players doing better. Players aged 22 or younger successfully convert 85.2% of attempts. Those aged between 23 and 28 convert 77.6%, and those aged over 29 years convert 78.1%.

The researchers conclude their paper by stating that their results demonstrate that the results of the penalty shoot-outs are not a lottery. Their results demonstrate that there are marked and logical patterns that repeat themselves time and again. The authors adopt a psychological stance on their results and they suggest that stress and anxiety may be important explanatory factors.

McGarry, T. and Franks, I. M. (2000) On winning the penalty shoot-out in soccer. Journal of Sports Sciences, 18, 401-409.

This paper employs computer simulation, probability theory and mathematical modelling to explore the effectiveness of different penalty shoot-out strategies. Their analyses suggests that there is an advantage in placing the team’s fifth best penalty taker on the first kick, the fourth best on the second kick, the third best on the third, the second best on the fourth, and the team’s best penalty taker on the fifth kick. If the competition goes to sudden death, the sixth best penalty taker should take the sixth kick and so on. The researchers also state that the ability of the team’s goalkeepers to save penalties should also be known and, if possible, substitutions should be made to place the best penalty stopper goalkeeper on the pitch at the end of the game. The researchers also recommend the use of substitutions to put better penalty takers on pitch if possible.

Morya, E., Ranvaud, R. and Pinheiro, W. M. (2003) Dynamics of visual feedback in a laboratory simulation of a penalty kick. Journal of Sports Sciences, 21, 87-95.

These researchers conducted a laboratory experiment to look at reaction times so that they could assess whether or not penalty takers should ignore the actions of the goalkeeper or take them into account. They found that penalty takers reached perfect performance only if the goalkeeper moved at least 400ms before the ball was kicked. Goalkeepers are therefore advised not to move this amount of time before the ball is struck. If they adhere to this advice, the results of this study would predict that the penalty taker is waiting for the goalkeeper to move will not be able to adjust his or her intentions. The results also showed that players could ignore the movements of goalkeepers if they chose to do so.

van der Kamp, J. (2006) A field simulation study of the effectiveness of penalty kick strategies in soccer: Late alterations of kick direction increase errors and reduce accuracy. Journal of Sports Sciences, 24 (5) 467-477.

This researcher conducted an experiment in which ‘intermediate level’ players were asked to do one of two things; either to take a penalty ignoring the goalkeeper completely, or to take account of goalkeeper during the run up to the kick (i.e. to anticipate what the goalkeeper will do and respond accordingly). The results showed that the success of players who tried to anticipate the goalkeeper’s actions was weaker than in the other situation, which the researcher puts down to the reduction in time to shape the attempt. Although the researcher does not state it, another explanation might be the increased complexity of the task in stressful conditions.


Andrews, A. (2001) On Penalties. London: Yellow Jersey Press.

This tremendous book relates the miseries of an England fan through the agonies of a seemingly endless succession of failed penalty shoot-outs. It works well as a book in its own right regardless of whether or not you have an interest in penalty shoot-outs.