Penalty shootout

Referred to by all and sundry as the cruellest way to decide the winner of a match, the penalty shootout has endured throughout football history and remains one of the most exhilarating and fraught spectacles in sport.

To a large extent, the rules are self-explanatory. In a knockout match, when two sides are deadlocked both after the 90 minutes of normal time and the 30 minutes of extra time, they will take turns to shoot from the penalty spot. The minimum number of penalties for each side is five, but there may be more or less required depending on the score. For example, if the teams are again deadlocked at 3 successful penalties each after 5 attempts each, another ‘sudden death’ goal-for-goal period will take place. One extreme example of this was the semi-final of the 2007 FIFA U-21 European Championships, with 32 penalties being necessary to separate England and the Netherlands, the latter winning 13-12. Alternatively, if one side is 3-1 up on penalties and the losing side then fails to convert their fourth penalty, the match will end, as they can no longer reach parity.

The actual penalties themselves are indistinguishable from the penalties you’d expect to see in normal time. The referee will flick a coin, with the winning captain deciding either which end the penalties will be taken from (this is constant throughout the shoot-out) or who will take the first penalty. The protocols are then identical – the goalkeeper must ensure he stays on his line until the kick is taken, and the shooter can only strike the ball once. In addition, only the eleven players who were on the field of play at the final whistle are eligible to take a penalty, and no individual can take more than one penalty for his team (unless 11 penalties have been taken by both sides and there is no alternative!).

The first ever penalty shootout took place in England in 1970 between Hull City and Manchester United in the Watney Cup, with the first successful penalty courtesy of George Best and the first unsuccessful one from Denis Law (Manchester United went on to win). The first international tournament final to be decided by a shootout, on the other hand, took place in 1978, with Czechoslovakia beating West Germany 5-3 in the European Championships. Other famous (or infamous) shootouts include the following:

  • England vs. Germany – World Cup semi-final 1990 (German victory)
  • England vs. Germany – European Championships semi-final 1996 (German victory)
  • Brazil vs. Italy – World Cup final 1994 (Brazilian victory)
  • Italy vs. France – World Cup final 2006 (Italian victory)
  • AC Milan vs. Juventus – UEFA Champions League final 2002-2003 (AC Milan victory)

Euro 96 – England v Germany