Over one and a half-century of pro soccer and a penalty kick is still the most exciting match moment!
Penalties predominantly favor the striker and embarrass the goalkeeper. So, it’s no wonder that the 12-yard penalty spot remains to be a goalkeeper’s worst nightmare.
After all, it takes 0.4 seconds for a well-struck penalty to find the back of the net. Blink your eyes at the wrong time here, and you won’t know which way the ball passed you by.
That’s why a goalkeeper’s best counter-strategy from this disadvantaged position is to make a guess!
Whether a goalie statistically studies his opponents like Germany’s Jen Lehmann against Argentina in the 2006 World Cup. Or, he looks for tells from the opponent’s body betraying him before the penalty kick.
The chances always remain 50/50, you’re either right, or you’re wrong!
But let’s suppose all goalies technically guess a penalty kick before it’s taken. We then need to find out what information they base their decision on.
What compels a goalkeeper to stretch either way on the goal-line to make a possible save?
Do Soccer Goalies Guess on Penalty Kicks?
Soccer goalies, amateur and pro alike, do not have many options but to guess the direction of the penalty before it’s taken.
But that doesn’t mean the guesses are random and blind ones either. Soccer goalies undergo strenuous training to become a penalty stopper.
It’s kind of like how a batter guesses what speed and height a pitcher will pitch the ball in baseball!
And so, the question here then becomes whether a goalkeeper makes his guess on indicators or patterns. To put it simply, do their guesses give them a better chance than a 50/50 one or not?
For that, we’ll have to look at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s research on penalty kicks. The study identifies 27 possible indicators (or tells) of what direction a striker will shoot the ball in.
19 major joints, 40 motion sensors, and 126 kicks later, the research boiled down to the following three potential indicators.
- The angle of the runup to the penalty spot.
- The angle of the planted foot during the penalty.
- The way a striker’s hips align right before the kick.
Though these indicators surely give away the ball’s direction after the kick, they still lack a few elements. The speed and height of the ball after being blasted away by a striker will forever remain a mystery.
So, a goalkeeper isn’t left with many tricks up his sleeve but to make a guess. And the stats of a penalty kick turning into a goal 75% of the time further assure that most goalkeepers really do rely on guessing!
Why Do Goalkeepers Dive Before the Penalty Kick?
Why goalkeepers dive before a penalty kick is both a scientific dilemma and a sporting masterpiece!
The average reaction time of an athlete is averaged around 0.25 seconds. Now, if you wait right until the point when a penalty kick is taken, you’ve already used up more than half of the flight time of the ball.
And at that point, it’s completely hopeless to stop a penalty if it is even slightly beyond your reach. Speaking of reach, a soccer goal post stands 2.5m above the ground and 7.3m wide.
That’s a distance impossible to cover from the point where a goalkeeper stands. A well-struck penalty directed at either top corner is beyond the saving of a goalkeeper, even if he jumps before the kick.
So, to cover the entire distance, a goalkeeper must ideally jump 0.1s-0.2s before the penalty is taken.
This gives a goalkeeper his best chance to cover the most part of the goal and save a penalty. But that is if he guessed the direction right!
Other than common indicators, a goalkeeper looks for, and his game experience plays a major part in guessing rightly.
And that’s one reason why goalkeepers generally tend to play longer than soccer players in other positions. The more experience a goalie has, the better he’ll be at reading strikers!
To sum it up, a goalkeeper dives before the penalty because that gives him just the right time and reach to cover the farthest corners of the goal post and make a splendid save.
When Goalkeepers Unlock God-Mode!
Seeing a full cat-like flex from a goalkeeper to reach the top corner and deny the striker his sure goal is nothing short of a wonder in soccer.
But what if a goalie outclasses his opponents by guessing every penalty right in a shootout? Well, that’s when you say a goalie’s unlocked god mode!
So, here are a few examples of when a goalkeeper’s guessing game is on point in soccer!
Iker Casillas in Euro 2008 (vs Italy)
Casillas’s monstrous performance against the World Champions in the 2008 Euro Cup quarter-finals not only helped his team to clear the round but to win the title altogether.
Real Madrid’s captain-fantastic put on a stunner of a show by guessing all the penalty kicks right after a goalless 120 minutes of the fixture.
Though three penalties flew past, denying the goals to De Rossi and Di Natale were the final nails in Italy’s coffin.
Oliver Kahn in Champions League 2000 (vs. Valencia)
Kahn’s memorable performance in the 2000 champions league final is another spectacle of guessing perfection!
Besides securing the title of the most dominating player on the field, Kahn’s ability to read his opponents goes unchallenged.
Valencia felt the titan’s wrath as he denied them the net twice to bring the teams at par. And then saving a spectacular third penalty to make his club the champions of Europe.
Jens Lehmann in the World Cup 2006 (vs. Argentina)
Filling in the phenomenal gloves after Oliver Kahn, Lehmann single-handedly propelled Germany into the semi-finals.
Lehmann based his guesses in the penalty shootouts on the past habits of Argentine penalty takers.
He had a piece of paper in his sock where his predictions on the direction of the penalties were written and consulted before each kick.
In the end, he guessed all the penalties correctly. And though some shots were unstoppable, his two fine saves gave Germany the edge it needed.
What Clues Do Soccer Goalies Use to Guess on Penalty Kicks?
A penalty kick is, without a doubt, challenging for a goalkeeper. But it is equally tough for a striker taking the shot.
Too much power, and you send the ball to the stands. And too little? Well, you roll it right to the hands of the goalkeeper!
So, as a striker starts his runup and thinks about where to put the ball in the goal, his body betrays him along the way. It’s either an angled runup, the way his planted foot is facing, or the alignment of his hips.
And when a striker gives away such indicators, a watchful goalkeeper wastes no time picking up the signs and stopping the shot!
Though every goalie and coach has their own ways of reading the striker’s mind, the following three remain the most common tells of a penalty taker used by goalkeepers in soccer for guessing.
The runup of a striker has a lot to say about where he intends to put the ball.
A right-footed striker will run up to the 12-yard spot from a deeper left side if he wants to curl it into the right corner of the goal. And the same, but in opposite directions, goes for a left-footed player.
But if the striker runs up in an acute angle or rather a straight line, he’s likely to direct it in his weaker foot’s direction. That’s left for a right-footed player and right for a left-footed one.
Looking at the angle of the planted foot of the striker gives major giveaways about the direction of the penalty.
This is a bodily action one cannot manipulate to betray easily. And though it barely gives a goalkeeper enough time to react, it’s usually a dead giveaway!
Based on research on match analysis of penalty takers, a striker’s planted foot always points in the direction the ball will go after the kick is taken.
An athletic goalie might wait until the last second to pick up on this queue and quickly dive in the direction for his best chance at saving the goal.
The alignment of a striker’s hips while taking the shot is similar to the planted foot. It happens at the dying second and gives a goalie just enough time to react.
A striker subconsciously aligns his hips at a near right-angle to the direction he will shoot the penalty in.
This is by far the most accurate giveaway for a goalie. But it’s also quite complicated to judge so quickly based on this thesis alone.
An amateur goalkeeper may be overwhelmed by the moment and may easily mistake reading the striker correctly.
But this tell combined with either of the two above will make a goalkeeper guess at least nine times correctly out of ten!
Should You Guess on Penalties or Not?
Guessing on penalties sounds like a brilliant idea until you start getting it wrong!
Nearly all goalkeepers rely on their instincts in the final seconds before a penalty kick. Besides making a guess, goalies also look for patterns and signs to improve their chances of getting it right.
Consulting the record of your opponents’ penalty takers before the game begins makes it more likely for your guesses to strike home.
You’ll know where the penalty taker mostly kicks the ball and what their patterns are.
Other than that, looking for signs in the penalty taker’s body language is also critical in getting the guess right.
So, if you’re making good use of these components before making a guess, you’re adopting an unparalleled strategy of the game that many great goalkeepers have used.
But, if making a guess is all you’re doing, you’re likely to get it wrong most of the time.
A goalkeeper is often the most experienced and active player on a soccer field.
He has a clear vision of the entire game happening and gets in a decisive role when the match extends to a penalty shootout.
Since a penalty happens in the blink of an eye, a goalie must look for indicators to correctly guess the direction of the shot before it happens.
The wide area of the goal and the bullet speed of a soccer ball in a split second compels a goalkeeper to dive before the penalty is taken to have his best chance at saving it.
Hi there, I’m Jay.
Soccer is everything in my life! My friends and I have created this blog with all our enthusiasm, passion, and understanding after years of playing pro soccer. Hope you will enjoy it!