A soccer match lasts 90 minutes, with an additional 30 minutes if there must be a winner. However, if the score remains level after that, the game will be decided in a penalty shootout, arguably the most nerve-wracking sporting event.
For the fans, it’s horrifying; One Argentina fan wept uncontrollably as she watched the Netherlands-Argentina quarterfinal shootout through her fingers at the World Cup in Qatar. She looked distraught by the end. She had shed all of her emotion, and the tears she shed were more of relief than joy.
Such emotions are amplified tenfold for the players. The anonymous quote states, “Love hurts, but not as much as penalties.”
One simple kick from 12 yards can define a career or not; the hopes of teammates and the expectations of potentially millions of fans weigh on success or failure. “It’s as if, for a few seconds, a player’s soul is laid bare for the entire world to see,” wrote author Karl Wiggins.
Professor Geir Jordet is the only person who would admit to enjoying a shootout; He can’t stop thinking about them.
From his Oslo research facility, he told CNN Sport, “A penalty shootout is a very uncomfortable event.” It hurts because of the intense pressure and the obvious dire consequences of failing. For me, penalties are wonderful!
Professor Jordet teaches performance under extreme pressure at the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences. He has been studying shootouts for nearly 20 years and has examined over 200 of them, or approximately 2,000 kicks.
He has studied the event’s psychology, observed the participants’ behavior and dynamics, and analyzed the data to arrive at the conclusion that even the most dramatic shootouts can be influenced by well-trained teams.
Peter Shilton, a former England goalkeeper, once stated, “The main factor in a penalty shootout is luck.” However, Jordet is certain that it is never “only a lottery.”
Penalties are more important than ever
In title matches, the difference between success and failure seems to be getting smaller, so the biggest prizes in soccer are decided in shootouts, where the difference is even smaller.
According to Jordet, “if you’re not prepared for penalties, you’re making a serious mistake if you enter a major tournament today with the ambition to win.”
To win Olympic gold in Tokyo in 2021, both the Brazilian men and the Canadian women needed to win penalties; In the same month, Argentina won the Copa América after winning a shootout, and Italy won the European Championship at Wembley in a similar manner.
There were a lot of fines the next year.
Beginning with Senegal’s victory over Egypt in the Africa Cup of Nations final in February. Real Betis and RB Leipzig won the Spanish and German Cup finals, respectively, from spot kicks, while Liverpool won two English cup finals against Chelsea.
In the Europa League final, Eintracht Frankfurt won on penalties over Rangers, and LAFC won the MLS Cup after an extraordinary final. The Philadelphia Union missed all of its kicks.
The penalty party in 2022 came to an end in Qatar, where a record five shootouts, including the final, took place.
Jordet can tell which side has the advantage in a matter of seconds after the final whistle is blown. By simply observing the interactions that take place on the field, he is able to gather valuable information.
Jordet explained to CNN Sport, “When the game goes to penalties, the coach and staff of some teams almost panic.” They seem to have no idea what to do. In addition, it is dealt with prior to the game and certainly prior to the penalties with other teams.
An example of this is the FA Cup final from last season; Within 90 seconds of the final whistle, Jordet observed that Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp had devised a strategy and had warmly and calmly communicated it to each of his players.
The remaining time they spent talking casually and even laughing. Thomas Tuchel, Chelsea’s allegedly troubled manager, continued to revise his notes for several more minutes before approaching his players.
“He moves to the center of the circle, BEFORE he’s finished with the arrangement,” Jordet saw in a tweet string, “Tuchel then gets some information about the shots, freely before the entire group.
When done this way, “there is a lot of group pressure,” “the chance of honest responses from the players drops,” and “it creates additional stress that continues into the shootout itself.”
The players were able to take up a position in the center circle that was closest to their coaching staff because of Liverpool’s efficient organization. There, Klopp continued to radiate warmth and love.
Liverpool won the trophy after Chelsea missed two penalties.
World Cup Final penalty masterclass
In a shootout, the goalkeeper, who is involved in every kick, has the most influence over the outcome. According to Jordet’s research, goalies aren’t just there to stop shots; they can also be beneficial to their teammates and destructive to their opponents.
In late seasons, Argentina’s 30-year-old goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez has laid down a good foundation for himself as a gamechanger in shootouts, the “Machiavelli of football.”
Jordet has realized that his adversaries find his psychological antics to be a nightmare. He used trash talk to intimidate Colombia in the Copa América semifinal in 2021, saving three penalties and winning 3-2.
Jordet has stated that the words “I can tell you’re nervous” could be clearly heard because the stadiums were empty in that edition. I am aware of the shooting location. Watch to see how I will devour you. Keep in mind that I will devour you whole!”
Martnez, on the other hand, displayed his full range of expertise in the World Cup final against France.
Jordet claims that he set the tone right from the start by getting to the penalty box first and taking over the territory. Jordet elaborated. “Martnez took a very proactive approach to everything.”
He established himself in the penalty box. He began by shaking hands with the first French players to arrive, a disarming tactic that causes opponents to lose their guard and makes them more vulnerable when he strikes later.
Martnez subtly disrupted the takers of the first two French penalties and urged the referee to check the location of the ball on the spot.
Any penalty takers would be disturbed by this kind of interference, but he was also testing the referee: How much would he be willing to put up with?
Jordet is of the opinion that because of this, Martnez was able to “fully get to work” after just two kicks and quickly assumed a proactive role.
When Martnez dived low to his right to prevent Kingsley Coman from receiving the second penalty, his celebration was ecstatic.
Jordet points out that goalkeepers rarely celebrate in such a wild way, but his research has demonstrated that celebrations can have an impact on subsequent events.
“We discovered, to our surprise, that penalty takers who celebrate vigorously have a statistically higher likelihood of being selected for the winning team.
“In fact, the opponent’s next penalty taker misses between 10 and 15 percent of the time, and your next teammate scores between 7 and 8 percent more penalties. Celebrations of this sort spread like wildfire.
Martnez knew he could get away with almost anything by the time the third French player came on. He grabbed the ball, turned away from the official, and returned to his goal line.
Martnez was holding the ball and gesturing to the Argentine fans to raise the volume when Aurélien Tchouaméni should have arrived at the pivotal moment of his professional career to retrieve it immediately.
Tchouaméni was forced to retrieve it on his own when Martnez rolled it away at a 45-degree angle when the referee asked for its return. According to Jordet’s calculations, a player’s chances of scoring decrease by 20 to 30 percent whenever they have to wait for a kick.
Tchouaméni missed with a low left-to-right shot.
Martnez grabbed the ball himself and passed it to his new teammate Leandro Paredes, one of four Argentine penalty takers who all scored. By this time, Martnez was aware that his teammates could face similar tactics from French goalie Hugo Lloris.
Eventually, Martnez was ticketed for interfering with Randal Kolo Muani, the fourth French player, but the damage was done and Argentina won the shootout 4-2.
Jordet concludes, “Very calculated, creative, well executed, but of course also highly, highly cynical.”
For his “cynical” actions, Martnez showed very little remorse. He said, “I have no words for it” after the final. During the penalty shootout, I remained composed, and everything went according to plan.
“All that I had hoped for has come true.”
Since the World Cup was over, the International Football Association Board (IFAB), which makes football rules, has told CNN Sport that it wants to make sure goalkeepers know what they can and can’t do before penalties are taken.
Delaying the kick or touching the goalposts, crossbar, or net are examples of this.
However, confrontations need not always be so negative; Love can sometimes win them over.
Jordet mentions that some of LAFC’s teammates met him when he returned to the center circle after missing the first penalty against Philadelphia in the MLS Cup Final and walked him back in.
In a penalty shootout, “you’re implicitly saying to the others that even if you miss, you are a part of the group,” which is the message you want to send to each other.
To win the cup, Los Angeles kicked every other time.
The power of intangibles
The shootout seems to excite some teams, while others seem to dread it.
The Netherlands has lost seven of its ten games, while England has lost seven of its ten games. Since Spain’s 2022 defeat to Morocco, it has now lost a record four shootouts at the FIFA World Cup.
Jordet has witnessed enough ghosts to believe in them; He asserts that even if you weren’t involved in a previous shootout, you’re more likely to miss if your team lost. On the other hand, success breeds success.
After losing in the 1976 European Championship final to Czechoslovakia and the well-known Antonin Panenka penalty, Germany has won six straight games, Croatia has won four, and Argentina has won three, winning both the Copa América and the World Cup.
Twenty professional teams have already sought assistance from Jordet’s consultancy firm, and more and more teams are recognizing the importance of understanding the psychology of shootouts in the modern game.
Jordet dismisses cynics who assert that skill development, relationships, and psychology are important but not quantifiable. “I totally think there’s so much more to be discovered in the softer areas of sports science,” he says.
“I sincerely beg to differ. A lot of these things can be measured in games if you know what to look for, and this is something I work on every day. In the years to come, I believe we will make significant progress.”
Since 1976, Jordet has watched every penalty shootout from the World Cup, European Championship, and Copa América, so he knows a lot about penalties. He has conducted interviews with 25 present players and put his predictions to the test in practice with 15 elite teams.
He says, “I think penalty shootouts are the ultimate drama in football.” He loves penalty shootouts.
However, due to the fact that broadcasters typically fill the time between kickoffs with replays and closeups of anxious coaches and fans, a lot of the nuance he described in the World Cup final would not have been apparent to the fans watching the game on television.
“If you are fortunate enough to have access to isolated broadcast cameras or if you are interested in watching fan videos on YouTube, you will only be able to access the details that really mattered, which are the subplot of the event.
Jordet concludes, “TV producers aren’t always my friends because they don’t look at what I like to look at.”
However, now that teams are beginning to recognize the significance of minute details in shootouts, broadcasters might also want to consider rethinking their strategy. The most significant drama in sports occurs right in front of them, and sometimes they miss the best parts.