Thursday, June 28, 2012

Why Spain Will Win Any Penalty Shootout

For many years, I have believed penalty shootouts to be sort of rubbish and a game of chance. I always thought that penalties were more or less 50-50, depending on whether the goalkeeper guessed the right direction or not.

I was a fool to believe that. Everything changed when I watched the Spain vs Italy penalty shootouts in Euro 2008. Spain won the shootout 4-2, courtesy of two saves from Iker Casillas. Even the ones that went in, Casillas dove in the right direction. Was lady luck smiling upon Casillas that night, or was there something more to it? 

Well, I don't know about those world class coaches, but after thinking about it quite a lot, I realized what was Casillas' secret. From then on, I have always had faith that Spain will never lose in any penalty shootout (almost never, I suppose). This was because Casillas will dive in the right direction almost every single time. This was again exemplified in the Euro 2012 shootout between Spain and Portugal.

How can Casillas consistently dive in the right direction? Well, after today, this will no longer be a secret. If you are footballer, pay attention closely to what I am about to reveal. Just before you kick the ball, assuming you are using your in-step, you would have to plant your feet next to the ball. Observe where the toes of your planted foot is pointing to. Yes, it is pointing to roughly the direction you are aiming. There is no way around this, unless of course you intend to kick with your out-step. But no one with common sense would do that in a penalty shootout.

Just imagine, if you are a right footer, and you plan to kick towards the right, there is NO WAY your planted foot can be pointed to the left. It would be a very awkward kick. But of course, if you were aiming to the left, which is the natural direction, your left foot would not be aiming directly to the left, but rather closer to the middle. But you cannot deny that it is obviously pointing a lot closer to the left than if you were aiming to the right.

If all this is too tedious to imagine, just go to 2:10 in the second video above, or look at the picture below:

Pepe directed his kick to the right (of Casillas). It is not so clear in the screenshot, but if you watch the video closely, you can tell distinctly that Pepe was aiming to the right. It will take several viewings. But it is most definitely discernible.  

I think Casillas has figured this out after watching thousands of penalty takers. I am not a professional goalkeeper, but this is my two cents after considering how Casillas has managed to gain such a huge edge during penalties. Of course, this is not to say Casillas is going to save every kick. Even if he were to dive in the right direction, the power and accuracy still plays a role, as demonstrated above. Pepe made the shot. But diving in the right direction is infinitely better than diving in the wrong direction. Surely, you can't deny that?

I don't think the Germans or Italians are going to read this blog, so I am not worried about them discovering Casillas' secret and things may not even go to the shootouts in the finals. And even if they figured this out, and it went to the shootouts, I seriously doubt there is much anyone can do about it. You can't change the way you kick the ball naturally. If you tried, you would just lose a lot of power and accuracy and that could just be enough to see Spain win back-to-back Euros.