Betting on Penalty Shootouts

Penalty Shootout BettingThe ‘dreaded’ penalty shootout is a common feature of knockout football tournaments and as every commentator in every shootout will tell you, going out on penalties is a ‘terrible way to lose’. Right as they may be, there’s a certain science and pattern to penalty shootouts that not everyone is aware of, and knowing the numbers can help you turn a profit if you’re sick enough to bet in-play on football’s equivalent of Russian Roulette.

Penalties by Numbers

Where there’s a significant sample size of something, there’ll always be nerds to analyse the data and present it in a nice neat fashion for less clever people to understand, and that’s exactly what several research groups have done over the years*.

An overwhelming feature of the hand-waving analysis of penalty kicks by pundits and journalists comes down to simple cognitive bias. If a penalty is saved, it’s invariably described as a poor kick. Similarly if the ball hits the back of the net, the kicker is described as cool and calm under pressure. This is of course, rubbish, and variance or ‘luck’ to the great un-hosed is the real factor at work here.

One of the main findings of shootout research is that about 80% of penalties are made, but the interesting part comes when you break them down by when they occur:

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

You can see that as the pressure mounts, the success rate drops. This suggests that maybe teams should hold their best penalty takers until last. Also, you can see that the fifth kick which is often the one to win the match comes with less pressure than those in the middle stages, and there is a big drop for the do-or-die sudden death kicks.

The data can be further broken down by player type. Strikers have the best success rate with 83.1% while defenders struggle, converting just 73.6% of kicks; a pretty big discrepancy. Another factor is age; players 22 or under are successful 85% of the time while their older team mates are at about 78%. So, if you see a 30 year old defender taking the first kick and you’re being offered the same odds on him as you are on a 21 year old striker taking the first kick, you know things are out of whack. Knowing these numbers can give you a huge edge in betting on penalty shootouts. Most kicks will come with odds around the 1.17 mark, so look to exploit this with the information in this article and you’ll wind up with a tidy profit.

Straight Down the Middle

The studies also shows some other interesting results. In isolation, if you want to score a penalty, kick it high and straight down the middle. 40% of all penalties are taken low and to the right. Kicks in the middle of the goal were successful 87% of the time though, mostly down to the fact that goalkeepers jump to the left or right 94% of the time. The stats also show that a goalkeeper is much better staying put rather than diving.

The most telling statistic though, is the height at which the ball is kicked. 57% of penalties are in the lower third of the goal  and they go in about 80% of the time. On the other hand, 13% of kicks are struck at the top third and from the data used in the study, 100% of them hit the net. Of course, kicking high comes with the added risk of ballooning the ball into the stands, but if you’re got the guts and trust your technique, then aim high and in the middle of the goal. There’s a reason why Alan Shearer was such a renowned penalty taker….

*Data from: 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.