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Tags:   Football,   World Cup,   Skills

By The Swag Team   -  July 10, 2014

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Photo credit:  www.dailymail.co.uk

We’ve seen a few games at this World Cup being decided on penalties, among them the Costa Rica vs Holland match that featured the dramatic goalkeeper change at the end of extra time. Holland couldn’t repeat that spot kicks victory against Argentina in the semi-final. If only they had followed this step-by-step penalty-taking guide developed by British scientists in 2000...

Two years of research triggered by England’s failure against Argentina in the 1998 World Cup, when they lost on penalties after Beckham’s red card had seen them play half the match and extra time a man down, resulted in what was hailed at the time as a winning mathematical formula.


After feeding a computer detail about abilities, stress, the order of kicking and other data, academics came up with an equation that just might be spot-on for teams facing the nail-biting final shoot out.


Unfortunately the England team seems to have not taken it on board as they went on to be elimintaed on penalties twice, against Portugal, in the quarter finals of the 2004 Euro Championship and of the 2006 World Cup.


The formula – Pj = Px – (Ps x J x S) – shows that the highest probability of success comes when the worst penalty taker out of the five goes first. The best should go fifth.


According to the computer, which analysed millions of permutations, the best probable chance of scoring (Pj) is to take the five players with their past scoring records (Px) and then let them take penalties in reverse order (J) of their probability of scoring (Ps). Stress (S) is the hidden factor, often increasing with each shot.


Using the formula, the academics argued that had top player Teddy Sheringham taken the fifth penalty in the second round match in 1998 and not journeyman David Batty, England would probably have beaten Argentina.


Instead, England lost 4-3, adding to a succession of shoot-out defeats that started with a 4-3 loss to Germany in the 1990 World Cup semi-final and included a 6-5 defeat European championship semi-final. Since then one can add the two debacles against Portugal, although when one considers the team’s performances in World Cups since then, going out on penalties in the quarters might actually be considered high points.


Dr Tim McGarry, a human kinetics scientist at the University of San Francisco whose family come from Yorkshire, was so fed up with the 1998 loss that he decided something had to be done.


His team analysed all the penalty shoot-out in World Cup games between 1982 and 1998, as well as the 1996 European Championship games. They gave rankings to five players in each team based on their known ability to score. The best had an 85% chance of scoring, the worst 65%.


 “There are 120 permutations and 14,400 ways in which two teams might contest the penalty shoot-outs through their line-ups. Using the computer, the combinations were tested 10m times. The optimal line-up is to assign the best five penalty takers to the available slots in reverse order. Shearer is one of the best and should not be going in first, but last,” he explained.


The study declared that the second substitutions should be used more to ensure teams finish the game with the best penalty takers on the pitch.


For example, in the 1998 England vs Argentina game, Sheringham, who had scored the fifth penalty against Germany in the 1996 European championship, stayed on the bench while Gareth Southgate, Paul Merson and Batty came on.


“Batty failed to score the fifth penalty. The reality is that the simple tactic of substituting players with a view to their known penalty-taking ability could be improved and suggest that specialist penalty-stopper goalkeepers could be used in much the same way as American football uses specialist players for set pieces. Extra training can increase a goalkeeper’s chances of stopping at least one penalty in five from 23% to 41%.


Unfortunately for the Dutch in Brazil, this formula didn’t seem to work on Wednesday.


"I thought he (Ron Vlaar) was the best player on the pitch so he should have confidence," manager Louis Van Gaal said of the first penalty taker during the post-match press conference.


Vlaar’s shot was saved by Argentinian goalkeeper Romero. "I taught Romero how to stop penalties, so that hurts," Van Gaal added to journalists. "We (AZ Alkmaar) were the club to bring him to Europe.”


The Dutch had scored all four of their penalties in the quarter final in which Robin van Persie had converted their first effort.


But the Manchester United striker had been substituted in extra-time, so Van Gaal was forced to turn to the Aston Villa centre-back Vlaar, who might have been best player on the pitch at the end, but surely cannot be considered better than either van Persie, Robben or even Kuyt.


On the other hand, the Argentinians actually had their best player, Lionel Messi, shoot first on Wednesday night. They went on to win.


So much for science and mathematics. Or maybe football has evolved and become more complicated since 2000…



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