A penalty kick (commonly known as a penalty or a spot kick) is a method of restarting play in association football, in which a player is allowed to take a single shot at the goal while it is defended only by the opposing team's goalkeeper. It is awarded when an offence punishable by a direct free kick is committed by a player in their own penalty area. The shot is taken from the penalty mark, which is 11 m (12 yards) from the goal line and centred between the touch lines.
The ball is placed on the penalty mark, regardless of where in the penalty area the foul occurred. The player taking the kick must be identified to the referee. Only the kicker and the defending team's goalkeeper are allowed to be within the penalty area; all other players must be within the field of play, outside the penalty area, behind the penalty mark, and a minimum of 9.15m (10 yd) from the penalty mark (this distance is denoted by the penalty arc). The goalkeeper is allowed to move before the ball is kicked, but must remain on the goal-line between the goal-posts, facing the kicker, without touching the goalposts, crossbar, or goal net. At the moment the kick is taken, the goalkeeper must have at least part of one foot touching, or in line with, the goal line. The assistant referee responsible for the goal line where the penalty kick is being taken is positioned at the intersection of the penalty area and goal line, and assists the referee in looking for infringements and/or whether a goal is scored.
The referee blows the whistle to indicate that the penalty kick may be taken. The kicker may make feinting (deceptive or distracting) movements during the run-up to the ball, but may not do so once the run-up is completed. The kick and the last step the kicker takes must be in motion. The ball must be stationary before the kick, and it must be kicked forward. The ball is in play once it is kicked and moves, and at that time other players may enter the penalty area and the penalty arc. The kicker may not touch the ball a second time until it has been touched by another player of either team or goes out of play (including into the goal).
A two-man penalty, or "tap" penalty, occurs when the kicker, instead of shooting for goal, taps the ball slightly forward so that a teammate can run on to it and shoot or pass. If properly executed, it is a legal play since the kicker is not required to shoot for goal and need only kick the ball forward. This strategy relies heavily on the element of surprise, as it first requires the goalkeeper to believe the kicker will actually shoot, then dive or move to one side in response. It then requires the goalkeeper to remain out of position long enough for the kicker's teammate to reach the ball before any defenders, and for that teammate to place a shot on the undefended side of the goal.
The first recorded tap penalty was taken by Jimmy McIlroy and Danny Blanchflower of Northern Ireland against Portugal on 1 May 1957. Another was taken by Rik Coppens and André Piters in the World Cup Qualifying match Belgium v Iceland on 5 June 1957. Another attempt was made by Mike Trebilcock and John Newman, playing for Plymouth Argyle in 1964. In 1982, Johan Cruyff passed to his Ajax team-mate Jesper Olsen, who then passed back, allowing Cruyff to tap in for a goal.
Arsenal players Thierry Henry and Robert Pires failed in an attempt at a similar penalty in 2005, during a Premier League match against Manchester City at Highbury. Pires ran in to take the kick, attempted to pass to the onrushing Henry, but miskicked and the ball hardly moved; as he had slightly touched the ball, he could not touch it again, and City defender Sylvain Distin cleared the ball before Henry could shoot.
Lionel Messi tapped a penalty for Luis Suárez as Suárez completed his hat-trick on 14 February 2016 against league opponents Celta de Vigo.
American goalkeeper Kasey Keller saves a penalty kick taken by Theirry Henry in a Major League Soccer match.
A penalty being scored by Ryan Valentine (red, no. 3). Defending against a penalty kick is one of the most difficult tasks a goalkeeper can face. Owing to the short distance between the penalty spot and the goal, there is very little time to react to the shot. Because of this, the goalkeeper will usually start their dive before the ball is actually struck. In effect, the goalkeeper must act on their best prediction about where the shot will be aimed. Some goalkeepers decide which way they will dive beforehand, thus giving themselves a good chance of diving in time. Others try to read the kicker's motion pattern. On the other side, kickers often feign and prefer a relatively slow shot in an attempt to foil the goalkeeper. The potentially most fruitful approach, shooting high and centre, i.e., in the space that the goalkeeper will evacuate, also carries the highest risk of shooting above the bar.
As the shooter makes their approach to the ball, the goalkeeper has only a fraction of a second to "read" the shooter's motions and decide where the ball will go. If their guess is correct, this may result in a missed penalty. Helmuth Duckadam, Steaua București's goalkeeper, saved a record four consecutive penalties in the 1986 European Cup Final against Barcelona. He dived three times to the right and a fourth time to his left to save all penalties taken, securing victory for his team.
A goalkeeper may also rely on knowledge of the shooter's past behaviour to inform his decision. An example of this would be by former Netherlands national team goalkeeper Hans van Breukelen, who always had a box with cards with all the information about the opponent's penalty specialist. Ecuadorian goalkeeper Marcelo Elizaga saving a penalty from Carlos Tevez in a 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifier between Ecuador and Argentina, revealed that he had studied some penalty kicks from Tevez and suspected he was going to shoot to the goalkeeper's left side. Two other examples occurred during the 2006 FIFA World Cup:
Portugal national team goalkeeper Ricardo in a quarter-final match against England, where he saved three penalties out of four. The quarter-final match between Argentina and Germany also came down to penalties, and German goalkeeper Jens Lehmann was seen looking at a piece of paper kept in his sock before each Argentinian player would come forward for a penalty kick. Lehmann had researched the penalty taking habits of seven players on the Argentinian team. However, only two players on his list ended up taking a penalty that day. On the attempts by those two players, Lehmann saved one and came close to saving the other. He then had to guess on Esteban Cambiasso's kick since he did not have any information written on his list about Cambiasso. However, he derived an educated guess from the videos he had studied and pretended to read the piece of paper and nodded his head before putting it away, implying to Cambiasso that he did in fact have information on the kicker. Lehmann guessed correctly and saved the penalty, thus winning the shootout for Germany. "Lehmann's list" became so popular in the annals of German football history that it is now in the Haus der Geschichte museum. This approach may not always be successful; the player may intentionally switch from their favoured spot after witnessing the goalkeeper obtaining knowledge of their kicks. Most times, especially in amateur football, the goalkeeper is often forced to guess. Game theoretic research shows that both the penalty taker and also the goalkeeper must randomize their strategies in precise ways to avoid having the opponent take advantage of their predictability.
The goalkeeper also may try to distract the penalty taker, as the expectation is on the penalty taker to succeed, hence more pressure on the penalty taker, making them more vulnerable to mistakes. For example, in the 2008 UEFA Champions League Final between Manchester United and Chelsea, United goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar pointed to his left side when Nicolas Anelka stepped up to take a shot in the penalty shoot out. This was because all of Chelsea's penalties went to the left. Anelka's shot instead went to Van der Sar's right, which was saved. Liverpool goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar used a method of distracting the players called the "spaghetti legs" trick to help his club defeat Roma to win the 1984 European Cup. This tactic was emulated in the 2005 UEFA Champions League Final, which Liverpool also won, by Liverpool goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek, helping his team defeat Milan.
An illegal method of saving penalties is for the goalkeeper to make a quick and short jump forward just before the penalty taker connects with the ball. This not only shuts down the angle of the shot, but also distracts the penalty taker. The method was used by Brazilian goalkeeper Cláudio Taffarel. FIFA was less strict on the rule during that time. In more recent times, FIFA has advised all referees to strictly obey the rule book.
Similarly, a goalkeeper may also attempt to delay a penalty by cleaning their boots, asking the referee to see if the ball is placed properly and other delaying tactics. This method builds more pressure on the penalty taker, but the goalkeeper may risk punishments, most likely a yellow card.
A goalkeeper can also try to distract the taker by talking to them prior to the penalty being taken. Netherlands national team goalkeeper Tim Krul used this technique during the penalty shootout in the quarter-final match of the 2014 FIFA World Cup against Costa Rica. As the Costa Rican players were preparing to take the kick, Krul told them that he "knew where they were going to put their penalty" in order to "get in their heads". This resulted in him saving two penalties and the Netherlands winning the shootout 4–3.
Even if the goalkeeper succeeds in blocking the shot, the ball may rebound back to the penalty taker or one of his teammates for another shot, with the goalkeeper often in a poor position to make a second save. This makes saving penalty kicks more difficult. This is not a concern in penalty shoot-outs, where only a single shot is permitted.
While penalty kicks are considerably more often successful than not, missed penalty kicks are not uncommon: for instance, of the 78 penalty kicks taken during the 2005–06 English Premier League season, 57 resulted in a goal, thus almost 30% of the penalties were unsuccessful.
A German professor who has been studying penalty statistics in the German Bundesliga for 16 years found 76% of all the penalties during those 16 years went in, and 99% of the shots in the higher half of the goal went in, although the higher half of the goal is a more difficult target to aim at. During his career, Italian striker Roberto Baggio had two occurrences where his shot hit the upper bar, bounced downwards, rebounded off the keeper and passed the goal line for a goal.
Some goalkeepers have become well known for their ability to save penalty kicks. One such goalkeeper is Brazil's and Flamengo's Diego Alves, who boasts a 49 percent save success rate. Other goalkeepers with high save rates include Claudio Bravo, Kevin Trapp, Samir Handanović, Gianluigi Buffon, Tim Krul, Danijel Subašić, and Manuel Neuer.