Tension from 12 yards

Italy's Roberto Baggio places the ball before taking his penalty in the shoot-out
© Getty Images

Judging by the way some players celebrate whenever a referee points to the penalty spot you might think the task of converting the kick was a mere formality. Yet, as even seasoned penalty takers will tell you, a lot can happen in the short time it takes the ball to travel from the spot towards the goal.

In taking a look at some of the best exponents in the business and a selection of the game's most fabled penalty coversions and misses, FIFA.com appraises the art of taking a penalty, from its preparation through to its execution.

In Brazil people say they (penalties) are so important that only the president should be allowed to take them.

Though one of the more irrational and unpredictable aspects of the game, a lot of work has gone into unveiling the secrets of the penalty kick in recent years. For instance, having studied hundreds upon hundreds of attempts, researchers at Liverpool's John Moores University believe they have uncovered the formula for the perfect penalty. They found that a five or six-step run-up coupled with a strike of 105 kmh or more, hit at an angle of 20 to 30 degrees ensures that the ball crosses the line at a point exactly 50cm from the bar and one of the posts, making it impossible for the keeper to save.

Not to be outdone, statisticians at Castrol invested two years of research into discovering that 95.4 per cent of penalties struck in the air find the back of the net, while only 71.3 per cent of kicks hit along the ground beat the keeper.

*A Brazilian leader and a Czech hero
In theory, then, penalty-taking seems relatively simple, a mere question of getting the physics right. Yet there is another aspect to the equation that the boffins have overlooked, the mental facet, one that separates genuine penalty experts from the players whose legs turn to jelly whenever they step up to the spot.

One man who knows all about taking a kick in the most pressurised of situations is current Brazil coach Dunga, who held his nerve in the shootout that culminated the Final of the 1994 FIFA World Cup™. "The physical condition and mental determination of the player are vital factors when taking a penalty kick," he explains. "In Brazil people say they are so important that only the president should be allowed to take them."

There have been few more coolly-taken penalties in the history of the game than the one Czechoslavakia's Antonin Panenka converted to give his side victory over West Germany in the final of the UEFA EURO 1976. With the Czechs leading 4-3 in the shootout, the midfielder, who never missed from the spot in his career, sent keeper Sepp Maier the wrong way with a shimmy before audaciously chipping the ball over the line.

"I'm happy I made a mark," said Panenka, who gave his name to this most nerveless of conversion techniques. "That penalty made me famous and although I had a lot of good matches in my career, that goal overshadows everything else I did."

While England strikers Alan Shearer and Gary Lineker built up solid reputations from the spot, the country's undisputed king of the penalty kick is Matthew Le Tissier. The former Southampton man converted 49 of the 50 he took in his career, that solitary failure coming against Nottingham Forest goalkeeper Mark Crossley, who made a habit of saving them.

Over in Italy, meanwhile, Roberto Baggio proved almost as effective as Le Tissier, scoring 76 times in 91 attempts in his 22-year career, the highest conversion rate in the history of calcio.

*Big names, big pressure
And yet the ex-Juventus star would happily swap all those successful kicks for his fateful miss in that Final shootout against Brazil at USA 1994, when he launched his side's final kick high over the bar to give the South Americans their fourth title. "Baggio usually struck his penalties along the ground but that day he hit it right up in the air, which just goes to show how stressful these occasions can be," says former Brazil international Branco, a successful penalty taker in that exciting denouement.

The Italian master is not the only genius to slip up from the spot. In the quarter-final between France and Brazil at Mexico 1986, no fewer than three legends of the game all suffered the same fate. Firstly Zico failed with an attempt in normal time. Socrates then missed Brazil's opener in the shootout, only for Michel Platini to spoil his record of never having missed a penalty by blasting high over the bar with France's fourth. Luckily for Platini, however, Luis Fernandez stayed strong to send Les Bleus through.

Baggio usually struck his penalties along the ground but that day he hit it right up in the air, which just goes to show how stressful these occasions can be.

Further famous failures include England's David Beckham slipping and sending the ball flying into the stands of the Sukru Saracoglu Stadium in a EURO 2004 qualifying match against Turkey. AC Milan front man Andriy Shevchenko also has bad memories of Istanbul, being denied by Jerzy Dudek's outstretched foot as Liverpool edged out the Italians in the shootout that decided the 2005 UEFA Champions League final.

Marco van Basten and Raul both missed crucial penalties at EURO 1992 and EURO 2000 respectively, while Manchester United's Cristiano Ronaldo blotted his copybook in the 2008 Champions League final, all of which goes to prove that even the most feared goalscorers in the world can get it wrong sometimes.

Diego Maradona, widely considered one of the game's all-time greats, also had his tough times from the spot. Usually reliable when taking penalties, Pelusa famously missed five in a row while playing for Boca Juniors in 1996. Another miss from El Diego came at the 1990 FIFA World Cup finals in Italy, against Yugoslavia. The try was saved by Tomislav Ivkovic who had earlier won 100 USD off the Argentina ace in a friendly wager by saving a penalty in a UEFA Cup shootout between Maradona's Napoli and his club, Sporting Lisbon.

*Cursed defenders
French full-backs can tell us a thing or two about penalty-kick disappointments. In the 1991 European Cup final Olympique Marseille's experienced right-back Manuel Amoros fluffed his lines in the shootout to allow Crvena Zvezda to take the title.

Bleus left-back Bixente Lizarazu suffered a similar fate in the quarter-final with Italy at France 1998, though the French won through on that occasion, while Eric Abidal missed the target for Lyon in a UEFA Champions League quarter-final four years ago, allowing PSV Eindhoven to advance to the semis.

Argentina's Gabriel Heinze was guilty of another high-profile spot-kick miss when he fired wide in the final of the 2004 Copa America against Brazil, though perhaps the most famous mishap suffered by a defender came in an Africa Zone qualifying match for Germany 2006 between Cameroon and Egypt.

Needing a win to reach the finals, and with the score tied at 1-1 deep into injury time, the Indomitable Lions were awarded a penalty. Inter Milan left-back Pierre Wome stepped up to take the kick only to send it crashing against the post, sealing his side's elimination. "Nobody wanted to take the kick because they were aware of what might happen if they missed," recalls the luckless Wome. "But I was brave enough to go up to the spot. I also took the last kick in the final at Sydney 2000. I scored that time and we became Olympic champions."

*Contrasting fortunes
One full-back with a deadly reputation from 12 yards out was Germany's Andreas Brehme. It was his nerveless penalty against Argentina that gave the Mannschaft their third FIFA World Cup title at Italy 1990. Somewhat ironically, the Germans only reached the Final thanks to fellow left-back Stuart Pearce's miss at the end of their dramatic semi against England.

That penalty made me famous and although I had a lot of good matches in my career, that goal overshadows everything else I did.

Bringing an end to our tale of penalty joy and pain are two South American goal machines, Ronaldo and Martin Palermo, the men behind two very different spot-kick "hat-tricks". One of the most composed finishers in the game, Ronaldo converted three penalties out of three to give Brazil a 3-1 win over Argentina in a Germany 2006 qualifier, while Albiceleste sharpshooter Palermo famously missed three out three in a 1999 Copa America tie with Colombia.

"I scored twice in our opening game and everyone was saying I was the best striker around," recalls the errant hitman. "Three days later I missed three penalties and suddenly everyone was saying I was the worst striker around. That just proved to me that in football you can be up one day and down the next."

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