• Raffaele Tomarchio

The Penalty Shot: Superstars Keep Missing! “It’s a Battle of the Mind”

“When you miss a chance in open play, people don’t remember. When you miss a chance on a penalty, people remember,” said Alan Shearer, all-time leading goal scorer for Newcastle United of the EPL. Decade’s later people will still talk about a missed penalty shot. Italians still talk about Baggio’s missed penalty kick at the 1994 Men’s World Cup Final in the USA. Jokes are based on it.

Certainly, people remember most when a missed penalty shot costs you the game. At the Copa America Final, none other than the great Messi missed a penalty shot against Chile and probably cost his team the Championship. The pressure was so great that he promptly announced his retirement from the National side.

At the Euro’s, his counterpart from Portugal, Ronaldo, also missed a Penalty Shot. Now you wouldn’t expect two of the best players in the World to both miss penalty shots at two huge competitions within a week would you?

In my book, The Last 9 Seconds, I spend a full chapter on the psychological aspects of the penalty shot. Taken right out of the book, Shearer said, “It’s a battle of the mind. When I missed in one game, it was my responsibility that everyone went home miserable that evening. It took a while to get over that. Penalty shots don’t get any easier just because you have taken lots.”

In the 1999 Women’s World Cup Final, Brandi Chastain scored that memorable penalty shot goal that got her so excited that see took her shirt off after the ball went in the net to give the USA the World Cup. But fortunately for her, she had taken a shot on the Chinese goalkeeper before. She said, “She (Gao Hong) had psyched me out earlier. I looked up and caught her eye. Her gaze rattled me and my shot dinged off the crossbar.”

In her book It’s Not About the Bra, Chastain said, “There is no way I’d look into her eyes again. A penalty kick is as much a mental challenge as it is a physical one. No one really expects a keeper to save a PK, so she has nothing to lose. All the mental pressure weighs on the shooter.”

In the game between Germany and Slovakia, Ozil, another superstar was given the task to step up to take a penalty shot and his shot was promptly stopped. Fortunately for Germany, they did not let that affect their game as they easily disposed of Slovakia in the round of 16 at Euro 2016.

But the pressure is not only on the shooter, how about the coach who has to decide who will take penalty shots? His job could be on the line. A player like Messi or Ronaldo will not lose his job on a missed penalty shot. But the coach, it could very well cost his team a victory and cost him a job and his ability to earn an income. Now that’s pressure. The Copa America Final was decided on penalty shots as Chile went on to win after Messi missed his shot. Will Euro 2016 be decided by penalties?

The coach has to decide which players to pick who will decide the fate of the game, possibly championship, and maybe his career. Now that’s pressure. Does the coach pick proven goal scorers or change things up a bit? Who will buckle under pressure and who will stay calm? When Italy won the 2006 World Cup against France mostly defenders were picked to take shots.

Now what if Germany needed to go to penalty shots in the game where Ozil missed? Would the coach pick him to be one of the shooters?

It’s not often that a player gets a chance to take two penalty shots in one game but when it happens, the coach has a big decision to make. In one way, you would assume that your best shot taker will regain their composure to do what they have done for you many times. In another case, you figure that their confidence may be a bit shattered and you cannot put them under that kind of pressure. Penalty shot taking is all in the mind isn’t it. Even for the coach!

In an MLS match between the Vancouver Whitecaps and the New York Red Bulls last season, the coach gave striker Bradley Wright-Phillips a second chance at taking a penalty shot in the game after missing his first. Consequently, Wright-Phillips became the first player in MLS history to miss two penalty shots in the same game. The Red Bulls lost 2-1 and ultimately, Wright-Phillips’ two missed scoring chances cost his team the game.

In that case, as much as the player will receive criticism for missing two shots: how about the coach? Fans and the media will want his head. How unfair!

So as we watch any match, and in particular the remaining matches in the 2016 Euro’s, think of the pressure not just on the shooter but also the coach or manager whenever a penalty shot is awarded. You can bet that they are the biggest cheerleaders for their chosen shooter. It could mean their job!

Thanks for reading

John DeBenedictis

(author of The Last 9 Seconds)


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