Ruud Doevendans

Ruud Doevendans has been an official columnist for a Dutch club and owns one of the largest collections of soccer videos containing hundreds of World Cup matches. We at PWC are proud to have him as a columnist. He will share his views about the past, present and future of the World Cup.

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Most penaltykicks are scored with the head

    For me, the best way to decide a drawn match is still taking penalties. I heard people suggesting all kinds of nonsense: take a player off from both teams every ten minutes and play on until a goal has been scored, for instance. Or "let's count the corners", another one. In the past they used to toss a coin, the man who ever introduced it on a footballfield should be banned from soccer for life. No, I don't think there is a better way to do it than from the spot, at least in final tournaments as there is no time to replay the match. And on top of that, for what it's worth: I like it a lot! It's great, exciting and sheer drama. I used to say: "It's where men get separated from boys." But then my favourite player Franco Baresi missed in the World Cup final 1994, and I never said it again. But then again, penalties have always been one of my favourite aspects in soccer. Although I was a goalkeeper in my active career, I took a lot of spotkicks and I saved more than half of the penalties that were fired at me. It's mostly because I studied the subject, I knew exactly what to do and what would give me the best chance. That gave me a huge advantage.

    What is often said by opponents of penaltyseries is, that it's all about luck, that it's a lottery. That's not true, I am sure about it. It's the talk of the losers. Taking a penalty has to do with having a decent shot and being calm, and both are personal qualities. Of course, sometimes you're lucky and sometimes you're not. Remember Bruno Bellone in 1986, when he hit the post and Brazil-goalkeeper Carlos' back, before the ball only just crossed the line. But luck and bad luck are a part of soccer, even a part of life, you can never fully exclude it. A penaltykick is soccer. And there is another point, which I have been telling people time and again: you can increase your chances by doing your homework. No, I don't mean: practice it over and over and you will never miss. It's about the question where to shoot it. I can not believe my eyes when I see tons of players shooting it low, where I always thought that you would have a better chance when you shoot it high. Therefore, I examined all penaltyseries in World Cups and European Nations Cups from 1982-2000. I wanted to be sure. Onehundred and ninetyfour spotkicks confirmed my thoughts. All who ever missed a decisive penalty, read carefully.

    From those 194 penalties, twelve were blasted wide or against the woodwork. From the 182 that remain, 128 were taken low. Only 93 of them, or 73%, resulted in goals. Shooting it low in the middle turned out to be a rather save idea (90%), but down right (seen from the position of the goalkeeper, left) with 72% and down left (71%) were less successful by far. Still seven out of ten players try to shoot it low. I can't understand why, because from the 54 that were taken high, 53 ended in the net: more than 98%! The only miss I registered was Socrates, who saw his shot beaten away by Joel Bats in the same serie that I mentioned earlier. So it's easy: shooting high will give you almost complete certainty about the result. Shooting low will leave you in the cold almost once every third time. For you to decide. Would you like 73% or 98%? Yes, I know, some will say: you can shoot it over the goal, but not under the goal. That's true, but what I don't say is, that you have to shoot it 5 centimetres from the post and just under the bar. No, no, fire it in the upper half of the goal and goalkeepers will hardly ever touch it. History is my witness.

    Doing your homework will make it easier. Not only will it learn you what to do, there is more. When a player knows what he has to do, and he has been able to practice it, the pressure on him will ease. He knows that he can do it, because he has done it several times before. So his chances will be even better. Most players nowadays are not very interested in studying the game. Why see your opponents on video, what is it good for? Give me my Nintendo, give me my movie! And leave me alone, I'm lying on the couch! More than once they don't even know the standings in the league, let alone they think about what penalty will give them the best chance of scoring. Obviously they think: when I'm standing there, on the spot, in front of 80.000 spectators and carrying the world on my shoulders, I'll just try to do my best and let's see what happens. Penaltykicks are a lottery, I will never to blame. And there we go again, one miss after the other. I told you: most penalties are scored with the head.



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