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It was suggested, on the Guardian’s Football Daily podcast, earlier in the summer, that when Ricardo Montolivo missed the first penalty in the shootout between England and Italy at the weekend, that Italian RAI commentary told their audience not to worry, because the team that misses a penalty first often goes on to win.

It was sound advice to the Italian populous as it turned out, but the statement itself felt to be a nonsense to me. I’ve dedicated a lot of the time since then to researching penalty shootouts and have got figures together for 110 of them – the only six I’ve not been able to find were in the Cup of African Nations during the 1980s, and the Seoul Olympics (if anyone can fill in those particular blanks, the games are listed at the end – I need penalty order; how many were taken, the round of the first miss, and which team missed first). That means that you’ve got to allow a maximum of 5.4% margin for error on any of these figures, which isn’t a lot in the big scheme of things. Anyway. What did I find out?

The team that misses first goes on to win the shootout only 18.18% of the time; and it has only happened twice in European Championships – out of fifteen shootouts; both in the 2012 edition of that tournament. Here is a graph showing the likelihood of winning the shootout (blue bars – %) set against the round of the miss. I’m a little surprised to see the 2nd round figure being so much higher than the first (34.8% v 22.2%) but look at the average figure (green line). It is inadvisable indeed, to miss first in an International shootout, and the later it happens, the more likely it will prove terminal.


I wanted to have a look, too, at something else. I wanted to know whether there’s an advantage in taking the first kick. Again, we’ve got a similar looking graph; the red line is total shootout kicks taken – by winners – the blue bars is the win % of those who take first with amount of kicks on the bottom, and the green line is the average. It seems, antithetically to what I would have thought, that the longer a shootout goes on, the more advantage there is in taking kicks first; up until 9 kicks, after which, only 1 team has won taking first. I wonder if that’s a pressure transfer – the first kick of a round is always to put the team into the lead, whereas the critical one is the second. When a team keep scoring their second with the pressure on, there must come a point where reacting to that, to put the first kicking team ahead, is at least equal in pressure. Despite that anomaly later on, the team kicking first wins 57.27% of penalty shootouts; a more than significant amount.


Oddly, three of the five shootouts where the winning team has taken more than 8 penalties involved the Ivory Coast; they won when kicking second, lost when kicking first (as you may remember from earlier this year).

My conclusion, then? If you miss first, miss early; and if you take first, hope to heaven that you finish before eight kicks. Having said all of that, the team I support, Huddersfield Town, were promoted after taking first, going 11 penalties deep, and missing the first three. Miracles happen. Just don’t bank on them. I might take a look at club penalties at a later date.

Penalty shootouts included; all World Cup, all European Championship, all Copa America, all Asian Cup, all but 5 African Cup of Nations, all CONCACAF Gold Cup, all Confederations cup, all but one Olympic Games. The 5 I am lacking information on are; 1984 – Nigeria 8-7 Egypt, 1984 – Cameroon 5-4 Algeria, 1986 – Egypt 6-5 Cameroon, 1988 – Nigeria 9-8 Algeria, 1988 – Algeria 4-3 Morocco. As before, any info (or posts to Youtube clips, I did a couple of the 80s CAN ones like that) appreciated.