The winner takes it all: Trialling a new penalty system

Tim Farrell Roar Rookie

By Tim Farrell, Tim Farrell is a Roar Rookie

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    The penalty shootout is a tragic way to lose a match. (AP Photo / Franz Mann)

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    Earlier this month the 131st annual meeting of the IFAB took place today at Wembley Stadium.

    The IFAB is made up of FIFA and the UK-based associations (English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish FAs) and their role is to decide upon proposed alterations to the Laws of the Game.

    From the press release on their website we read that the IFAB will focus on “… a potentially fairer system for kicks from the penalty mark.” So, what’s this all about?

    Ignacio Palacios-Huerta in his book Beautiful Game Theory: How Soccer Can Help Economics, studied 1001 penalty shootouts comprising 10431 penalty kicks during a period from 1970-2013. It includes virtually all the shootouts in the history of the main international elimination tournaments such as the World Cup, European Championships and Copa América.

    The data set also includes club matches from the UEFA Champions League and Europa League, Spanish Cup, German Cup and English FA Cup.

    What Palacios-Huerta discovered was that the team who took the first kick in the shootout won 60.6 per cent of the time. The data clearly shows that the penalty shootout is not a 50-50 lottery. It is more like a 60-40 lottery, where the team kicking first has 20 per cent more tickets.

    Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo from Portugal reacts after falling to score a penalty kick during a shootout in a semifinal, second leg Champions League soccer match against Bayern Munich at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid Wednesday April 25, 2012. (AP Photo / Franz Mann)

    As the team who wins the coin toss can always elect to kick first, it’s an inherently unfair situation for the opposition. The winner of the coin toss, really does take it all! The reason is because the scoring rate in the shootout is 73 per cent, so the team kicking second is usually playing catch-up and therefore experiences greater pressure with each kick.

    The IFAB acknowledged this for the first time when Stewart Regan, chief executive of the Scottish FA, said: “The stats at the moment say that 60 per cent of penalty shootouts are won by the team that takes the first penalty.”

    Incredibly, nine consecutive penalty shootouts were won by the team kicking first at the FIFA World Cup during a period from 2002 to 2014. Now some of these shootouts were blowouts such as Ukraine over Switzerland 3-0, or Portugal over England 3-1. But others including the final in 2006 were decided by a single missed penalty.

    I wonder how some of those losing teams feel about the IFAB’s admission that for the past 47 years the team kicking first has had a 20 per cent advantage?

    Regan went on to say, “We believe that the ABBA approach could remove that statistical bias and this is something that we will now look to trial.” No, he’s not talking about the 70s Swedish pop sensation, but about a new kicking order that mirrors the tennis tiebreaker. In tennis, player A serves the first point, then player B serves the next two points and so on. The resulting pattern looks like this: ABBA-ABBA.

    And if you look at the stats for tennis tiebreakers, you can see why they’re testing it. Professional male tennis players win about 70 per cent of points when serving, which is very close to the scoring rate in the shootout. Out of 5200 tiebreakers on the ATP men’s tennis tour, the first sever won 50.8 per cent of them. So, the 20 per cent advantage inherent in the shootout is reduced to a miniscule 1.6 per cent in the tennis tiebreaker.

    Hopefully the trials can be conducted quickly and both football and disco fans can celebrate at having ABBA at the 2018 FIFA World Cup!

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    The Crowd Says (26)

    • Roar Rookie

      March 16th 2017 @ 10:40am
      At work said | March 16th 2017 @ 10:40am | ! Report

      I like it, that’s a change I’d support

    • March 16th 2017 @ 10:57am
      mattq said | March 16th 2017 @ 10:57am | ! Report

      surely though you need to factor in the statistics around the coin toss as well as who takes the first penalty.

    • March 16th 2017 @ 11:36am
      Mark said | March 16th 2017 @ 11:36am | ! Report

      Perhaps for 2 legged ties, you could do away with the coin toss and just allow the away team to choose whether to kick first or not. That could overcome any advantage for the other team of having the extra time and shootout at their home ground.

      Overall, though, I think it’s a solution in search of a problem and should be left as is. The coin toss is 50/50, and 60/40 is not so far away from 50/50 to be an outrageous advantage for the team kicking first.

      If we’re talking about penalty shootouts in a true game theory sense, kicking second should make absolutely no difference. If it does because of ‘pressure’ on the kickers, the optimal response for teams kicking second would be to focus on their own kicks and totally ignore the outcomes of the other team’s kicks.

      • March 16th 2017 @ 1:42pm
        Brian said | March 16th 2017 @ 1:42pm | ! Report

        Penalty shoot outs is 95% mental. Nearly any professional team will have 5 players capable of hitting the top corner of the net at training with no one watching. Transfer that to the weight of your whole country or club or just your teammates and it drops.

        • March 16th 2017 @ 1:50pm
          Mark said | March 16th 2017 @ 1:50pm | ! Report

          That should apply equally to the two teams, though, regardless of whether they kick first or second.

          As I said, if there is additional pressure kicking second from knowing that the kicker before you scored, the optimal response (in a theoretical sense) would be to ignore the outcome of the kick before (ie. don’t watch/listen). Difficult to implement in reality, though, I admit.

        • March 16th 2017 @ 4:05pm
          Mark said | March 16th 2017 @ 4:05pm | ! Report

          Or, alternatively, have the teams kick simultaneously at opposite ends.

          • March 16th 2017 @ 6:04pm
            70s Mo said | March 16th 2017 @ 6:04pm | ! Report

            Mark, I love the simultaneous idea. Perhaps we can spice it up a bit: simultaneous kicks from the SAME end. 2 keepers, 2 strikers – it would be a hoot

    • March 16th 2017 @ 12:00pm
      Nemesis said | March 16th 2017 @ 12:00pm | ! Report

      Good idea by IFAB. Can’t see any negatives; only positives.

      One other issue that I’d like addressed – remove the Extra Time for 2 leg ties. If scores are level after 90′ go straight to penalties.

      It’s already unfair that the 2nd home team gets to have the penalty shootout in front of their own fans; they should not also get the advantage of playing another 30′ at home.

      • March 16th 2017 @ 1:35pm
        Brian said | March 16th 2017 @ 1:35pm | ! Report

        This is negated by the fact that if the extra tme ends at 1-1 the away team goes through having had an extra 30 minutes to score an away goal.

        Also in the Champions League the team that is home 2nd has rightly earned its advantage by winning its group

        • March 16th 2017 @ 1:43pm
          Mark said | March 16th 2017 @ 1:43pm | ! Report

          That applies for the Round of 16, but not for subsequent ties.

      • March 16th 2017 @ 1:42pm
        Mark said | March 16th 2017 @ 1:42pm | ! Report

        I don’t agree with removing extra time. Everything reasonably possible should be done to avoid having matches decided by penalties.

        I’m not convinced that having extra time at home is much of an advantage. It would be interesting to see the figures on the results of matches that go to extra time. As far as I’m aware, away goals in extra time still count as an ‘away goal’ (I recall there was consideration of changing this but I don’t think it happened), so while the away team is ‘disadvantaged’ by being away from home, any goal they score is more significant than a goal scored by the home team, which counteracts the disadvantage.

        We should be wary of tinkering with rules to solve minor or non-existent problems. We only have to look at the experiences of the AFL and NRL, who are constantly tinkering with their rules to address ‘problems’, and the vast majority of the time they make things worse rather than better.

    • March 16th 2017 @ 2:57pm
      70s Mo said | March 16th 2017 @ 2:57pm | ! Report

      This is a pretty stupid idea. If they want it 50/50 then do way wth penalties. Just have a coin toss.

      • March 16th 2017 @ 3:16pm
        Nemesis said | March 16th 2017 @ 3:16pm | ! Report

        Why is it stupid? Is the serving format for Tennis Tie Breaks also stupid?

        • March 16th 2017 @ 3:59pm
          Mark said | March 16th 2017 @ 3:59pm | ! Report

          For a player to win a tie break in tennis, they have to be first to seven and win by two clear points.

          The serving format ensures a player can’t win the tie break by serving first and just having every point go to serve.

          That’s not an issue with penalty shootouts.

          True, in tennis they could achieve the same outcome by exchanging serve after every point, but it’s not very efficient when they have to alternate serve between sides of the court. It’s much easier to have the player take two serves at a time. Obviously not an issue in football, where there is only the one penalty spot used in a shootout.

          That format is fine for tennis, just like the current format is fine for football.

          • March 16th 2017 @ 6:19pm
            Nemesis said | March 16th 2017 @ 6:19pm | ! Report

            I can’t believe people think this is not a good idea.

            Sure it’s not the perfect solution & I don’t like shootouts deciding matches but, if we have to choose between:

            a) toss a coin & one team always kicks first; or
            b) ABBA system

            The ABBA system has no negatives.

            • March 16th 2017 @ 8:14pm
              jupiter 53 said | March 16th 2017 @ 8:14pm | ! Report

              Brilliant idea.
              I can’t believe how anyone would not be able to see this, but I guess it’s pearls before you know what.

            • March 17th 2017 @ 9:54am
              Mark said | March 17th 2017 @ 9:54am | ! Report

              It’s not a ‘bad idea’, just a solution in search of a problem.

          • March 24th 2017 @ 12:16pm
            clipper said | March 24th 2017 @ 12:16pm | ! Report

            Just a small point, Mark – The first server in a tie break gets only 1 serve, then after 2,, therefore making it a little fairer – if they had 2 serves to begin they could be 2-0 up and at an advantage after the first 2 points, like the proposed change in the penalty shoot out – I think it’s a good solution.

      • March 16th 2017 @ 3:31pm
        mattq said | March 16th 2017 @ 3:31pm | ! Report

        I thought about that also haha. definitely doesn’t seem all that significant but won’t hurt to implement.

    • Roar Pro

      March 16th 2017 @ 3:55pm
      Jeff Williamson said | March 16th 2017 @ 3:55pm | ! Report

      Good to see some solid research going into this.

      It is well worth trialling this idea.

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