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Penalties: How to hit them, where to put them

With two out of nine missed on matchday two, UEFA.com's Rob Esteva and Simon Hart discover the secrets of successful UEFA Champions League spot kicks.

Ludogorets' Vladislav Stoyanov saves a Steaua penalty in the UEFA Champions League play-offs
Ludogorets' Vladislav Stoyanov saves a Steaua penalty in the UEFA Champions League play-offs ©Getty Images

One of the striking statistics from matchday two in the UEFA Champions League was that nine penalties were awarded in the 16 games – the highest total since matchday two in 2010/11, when there were 13.

Of the nine penalties taken three weeks ago, seven were scored and two of them were not converted. Real Madrid CF's Cristiano Ronaldo, who later scored from the spot, had his first penalty of the night against PFC Ludogorets Razgrad saved by Vladislav Stoyanov. Meanwhile, FC Porto's Yacine Brahimi was foiled by FC Shakhtar Donetsk goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov.

The flurry of spot kicks prompted the UEFA.com team to delve a little deeper into the numbers ahead of matchday three and our research of the last seven seasons reveals that right-footed takers have a better success rate – and penalties down the middle are the least profitable.

Going from the 2007/08 campaign through to 2013/14, there have been 211 penalties in UEFA Champions League matches. That figure does not include shoot-outs. A simple breakdown of those 211 penalties shows that 74% were converted – a figure similar to the English Premier League, where over virtually the same span of time (2007–14), 78.5% of penalties were scored.

Dark blue = penalties scored
Dark blue = penalties scored©UEFA.com

Rather than simply looking at scored versus not scored, we wanted to break things down further, specifically the penalties that were not converted and the reasons why. Our findings told us:

• Of the 55 unsuccessful penalties, 43 were saved by the goalkeeper.
• Eight of the 55 unsuccessful penalties hit the woodwork.
• Perhaps surprisingly, only four of the 211 penalties were off target.
• Two penalties which were initially missed were converted on the rebound.


Taking it a step further, we wanted to explore a number of different questions:

1. What is the proportion between right and left-footed penalty-takers?
• Approximately three-quarters of the 211 penalties were taken by right-footed players.
• 51 of the 211 were taken by left-footed players.

2. How do right and left-footed penalty-takers compare in terms of success rate?
78% of right-footed penalties are scored compared with 63% of left-footed penalties.

3. Do right and left-footed penalty-takers favour particular sections of the goal?
• Splitting the goal into thirds, there is a clear majority of left-footed takers shooting to the right (51%) and right-footed takers shooting to the left of the goal (45%).
• There is a near-identical ratio of left (20%) and right-footed (21%) penalties placed down the centre of the goal.

Which foot and where?
Which foot and where?©UEFA.com

The final graphic looks at how each of the penalties were distributed by foot and by outcome. The additional insight in this graphic compared to the last one shows how a greater proportion of penalties shot in central areas were unsuccessful – six of the ten penalties taken by left-footers were unsuccessful, while 15 of the 33 penalties by right-footers were unsuccessful. Both figures are significantly higher than the 24% total average of unsuccessful penalties. The moral of the story is clear for penalty-takers – shooting to either side gives you a far better chance of finding the back of the net.

Where penalties are struck
Where penalties are struck©UEFA.com