What to Do With Your Penalty Kick

DESCRIPTIONDylan Martinez/Reuters
Asamoah Gyan’s successful penalty kick down the center.

Our latest Freakonomics Radio podcast discussed the fact that soccer players are generally reluctant to aim penalty kicks at the center of the goal even though the data show that is the most effective spot.

We expanded on this topic in a (U.K.) Times article yesterday.

And then Asamoah Gyan of Ghana went out and made us look smart in a match against Serbia. In the 84th minute of a nil-nil game, Gyan took a penalty and went center with it, producing a big 1-0 upset. (As of this writing, Gyan’s was the only penalty kick taken in the World Cup, although there will be plenty in the knockout round, when tie games are decided by shootouts.)

The method is effective because keepers usually commit to jumping left or right on penalty kicks just as the ball is struck. Kicking to the center seems to work with English keeper Robert Green as well, but for different reasons.

(Hat tip: Collin Campbell.)


As a former goalie at a high level I would like to weigh in on this. We (goalkeepers) are trained in many tactics to increase our odds in saving a PK. One such tactic is reading the players hips - this creates a situation in which we are no longer guessing and therefore no matter what the shooter does, the keeper will guess correctly the majority of the time. That being said, like some of the other comments say, a perfect shot will beat a keeper every time no matter if the keeper guesses correctly or not.

As a keeper can now predict with very good odds where the shooter will go, the real item here is will the player make a perfect shot or not.

In my 12 years as a high caliber keeper - I have saved over 65% of PK's using this strategy.

As to what one of the readers stated about shooting to your weaker side - one reason could be that the keeper thinks that the player will shoot to his weak side therefore he will guess that direction. The player will come to the conclusion that the goalie thinks that he will go to his weak side and therefore he should go to his strong side or as this article says - the middle