The science of the humble penalty-kick has been debated for decades. For some, it is simple: practice makes perfect. Others, however, are just as adamant that no amount of training-ground rehearsals can prepare someone for shouldering a nation's hopes in front of an expectant crowd.
For goalkeepers, there is an additional dilemma: to research or not to research? Those famous notes concealed in Jens Lehmann’s shinpad now have their own place in FIFA World Cup™ folklore, yet many more of the German's counterparts have faced such situations with only their instinct guiding them.
Among those content to go with their gut instinct was Peter Schmeichel. One of the greatest goalkeepers of all time, and a European champion with both club and country, the Denmark and Manchester United legend was openly sceptical about the benefits of pre-match research. However, the 46-year-old admits that he has been converted by the Castrol EDGE Penalty Analysis tool, which has involved documenting every spot-kick in Europe's major domestic leagues and the UEFA Champions League over the past four seasons.
The result, according to Schmeichel, is a revealing guide to penalty-taking habits that makes the task of keeping them out arguably easier than ever. "I've got to be honest – I took a very old-fashioned approach to penalties," he told FIFA.com. "I relied completely on my instinct, made my mind up early and never changed it. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't, but I never bothered with any research. So I suppose I came into this thing with Castrol as a bit of a sceptic, but I must admit I've really been won over. When you look at their analysis, the patterns become really clear and, if I'd had that during my career, I'm sure it would have been really useful.
It's a pity because I felt we could have been a dark horse at this tournament, but in the end we went out in the worst possible way.
"I was looking at the research on Frank Lampard, for example. He's a successful penalty taker in England, but if you look at the analysis, you can pretty much guarantee he's going to do one of two things: hit it really low to the right, or go to the far left, but always at a certain height. As a keeper, that means you go from having six or seven choices to deciding between two. It's still no guarantee of success obviously, but there's no question that it gives you a better chance."
Happy to preach the benefits of this system to the current generation of keepers, Schmeichel's only regret is that Denmark's current No1 will have no need for such analysis. No-one in the history of the Danish national team has earned as many caps at the EURO 92-winning keeper, and Schmeichel remains a passionate supporter of the side he represented on 129 occasions. He was saddened, therefore, by the manner in which they exited South Africa 2010, and pulled no punches in his assessment of their campaign.
"Everybody involved needs to take a good look at themselves," he said. "The players just didn't perform and, for me, neither did the coach. I felt beforehand that he was sticking with the same old players, some of whom just haven't been doing it for the past couple of years. And that cost us. If I'd been in his position, I'd have introduced some of the younger lads, just to change the dynamic if nothing else. We have a young midfielder, Christian Eriksen, who's really talented – he'd be in my team every week. He has something different about him and we really needed that at times.
"It's a pity because I felt we could have been a dark horse at this tournament, but in the end we went out in the worst possible way. Against Japan, we just crumbled. And that's something I never expected to see. Most of the Danish sides I played in didn't have lots of super-talented players, but we did have plenty of determination. I didn't see that same fight in this team."
As well as following Denmark’s progress with interest, and increasing despondency, Schmeichel has been keeping a keen eye on the goalkeepers on show at South Africa 2010. His view is that, after an opening round of matches punctuated by a clutch of costly clangers, those competing for the competition's Lev Yashin award have steadily begun to show their class. "It's been tough for keepers," he reflected. "They've been getting used to the conditions and the new ball, and it's possible those factors contributed to a few mistakes early on. But the standard seems to be getting better on the whole, and there are definitely some good keepers out there. One who caught my eye was the Slovenian lad, [Samir] Handanovic. But there's still time for someone to really come into their own."
Indeed there is, and as the stakes rise ever higher, starring in a shoot-out triumph is sure to go a long way towards establishing another goalkeeping great.