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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.)