After the heartache of being knocked out of the World Cup in a penalty shootout in 1990, 1998 and 2006, England finally put a nation’s nightmares to bed when they edged out Colombia on Tuesday evening.
Before Tuesday England had previously won just 14% of all penalty shootouts they had been involved in – compared to Germany’s win ratio of 86%.
However Gareth Southgate ‘s young teams excised the demons of yesteryear when Eric Dier slotted the penalty that put them through to tomorrow’s quarter final clash against Sweden.
Dr Tom Crawford, a mathematician at the University of Oxford, has studied what the Three Lions did right, what they did wrong and what they should do if the game against Sweden tomorrow goes to penalties…
Know your line-up
Spain crashed out to Russia on penalties with last-minute manager Fernando Hierro seen frantically quizzing his 10 outfield players on who would have a go from 10 yards.
There was no such chaos for England. Southgate knew the men he wanted – although a groin injury to Jamie Vardy meant Eric Dier took the fifth and final spot kick and not the Leicester striker.
Aim for the unsaveable zone
Dr Ken Bray at the University of Bath calculated the area which a goalkeeper can reach with a full dive from the centre of the goal – the ‘diving envelope’.
Aiming outside of this zone into the ‘unsaveable zone’ gives you a 80% chance of scoring, compared to only 50% inside the diving envelope.
Kane’s two penalties with Panama were both dispatched in the ‘unsaveable zone’ with aplomb. He went lower in his shootout penalty vs Colombia but it was still accurate enough.
The best way to combat the nerves of a penalty shootout is to use the technique of ‘mental imaging’. This means that you imagine a successful penalty in your mind and the celebrations that will follow. It’s not only important that you do this as you are waiting to take your penalty, you should be visualising your penalty at every available opportunity.
Goalkeepers improve later in shootout
As the keepers get warmed up and used to diving they start to improve during the shootout, which means that the longer the penalty shootout goes on, the more likely your keeper is to make a save.
England penalty breakdown
England’s captain and talisman, Kane’s very calm and confident in his walk up to the penalty spot showing that he has prepared well mentally.
He carefully places the ball and adjusts his socks before firing low and hard into the bottom left-hand corner of the net.
The keeper goes the right way but it’s too accurate and right in the corner of the ‘unsaveable zone’.
A different approach on the walk up as he keeps his head down to make sure he doesn’t give anything away to the Colombia keeper.
He curves his run-up to add extra disguise to the shot and puts it in almost exactly the same place as Harry Kane. Again, the Colombia keeper goes the right way but it’s too fast, too accurate and right in the bottom corner of the ‘unsaveable zone’.
The ‘kick-ups’ on the walk to the penalty area show he’s nervous and the look on his face also hints at a lack of confidence. The placement of the shot is actually very good as he hits the ‘unsaveable zone’ to the left of the keeper, but his shot is a little higher than the previous two making it a more comfortable height for the goalie, and his wide run-up gives the game away as he opens his body to go to the right.
If you look closely you’ll see that Ospina moves before Henderson kicks the ball which is why he’s able to reach beyond the ‘diving envelope’ and make the save.
He has his head down and a look of complete focus on his face as he approaches the penalty spot. After a little glance up to make sure he knows where he’s going, he buries it in the top left corner in the perfect spot. Comparing Trippier’s penalty to the fourth Colombian taker, Uribe, who missed, it’s the use of the inside of his foot that makes all of the difference.
Despite them both aiming for the top corner of the ‘unsaveable zone’, Uribe leant back and went with his laces making it less controlled than Trippier’s side foot. It’s also interesting that England’s nominated set piece taker went fourth in the line-up.
No doubt, because Gareth Southgate knew that the fourth penalty would be key to victory as one that goalkeepers are likely to save.
Positionally, probably the worst of the five England penalties as it was the closest to the centre of the goal and the edge of the ‘diving envelope’ which is within reach of Ospina. The key aspect of Dier’s penalty that allowed him to score was the fact that it was along the ground.
England beat Colombia on penalties
Ospina dives the correct way, but can’t reach close enough to his body to make the save. Compare this to Jordan Henderson’s penalty, which was much closer to the corner, but at a more comfortable height for the save.
- 4 of the 5 penalties went to the left of the goalkeeper and were all scored, whereas the one that went to the right of the keeper was saved.
- All of England’s penalty takers were right-footed.
- 2 of the 5 penalty takers were substitutes, likely brought on to take a penalty in the shootout.
- All of England’s penalties hit the ‘unsaveable zone’, maximising the chances of scoring. For Colombia only 2 of the 5 penalties hit the ‘unsaveable zone’.
- Jordan Pickford saved the fifth and final penalty, demonstrating how it is more likely for a goalkeeper to make a save later in the shootout.
Bring on Sweden!
Tom Crawford will be speaking on ‘Maths vs Sport’ at New Scientist Live, the four-day festival of ideas and discovery from 20th – 23rd September at ExCel London. Tickets are available at live.newscientist.com
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