Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

How can World Cup teams win penalty shootouts?

By the CNN Wire Staff
Portuguese goalkeeper Ricardo saves a penalty from England's Jamie Carragher during their 2006 quarter final match in Germany.
Portuguese goalkeeper Ricardo saves a penalty from England's Jamie Carragher during their 2006 quarter final match in Germany.
  • Study finds anxious players focus on goalkeeper
  • When they shoot, the ball tends to fly straight
  • Researcher suggest players pick a spot on the goal and shoot to it
  • Soccer
  • FIFA

(CNN) -- Here's a study that teams playing in the World Cup soccer tournament would be well-advised to heed: the trick to a successful penalty kick is to look at the ball; not the goalkeeper.

So says a British researcher at the University of Exeter, south-western England.

Greg Wood's study found that when penalty takers are anxious, they tend to focus on centrally-positioned goalie in front of the net.

But because the body tightly coordinates gaze control and motor control, focusing on the goalie means that the penalty shots also tend to centralize -- making them easier to save, he said.

"During a highly stressful situation, we are more likely to be distracted by any threatening stimuli and focus on them, rather than the task in hand," Wood said in a statement on the university website.

"Therefore, in a stressful penalty shootout, a footballer's attention is likely to be directed towards the goalkeeper as opposed to the optimal scoring zones (just inside the post).

"This disrupts the aiming of the shot and increases the likelihood of subsequently hitting the shot towards the goalkeeper, making it easier to save."

The study had members of the university's soccer squad take penalty kicks while special glasses recorded their precise eye movements.

This allowed researchers to analyze each player's gaze and the time he spent looking at different locations of the goal.

The researchers then added an element of stress -- telling the players that the best penalty taker will win a cash prize.

So, what should a player do?

"Research shows that the optimum strategy for penalty takers to use is to pick a spot and shoot to it, ignoring the goalkeeper in the process," Wood said.

Part of complete coverage on
Psychic octopus to retire
Paul the octopus, who correctly predicted the outcome of eight World Cup matches in a row, is retiring from the forecasting business.
CNN's Twitter Buzz
Who's tweeting about what? Follow the World Cup trends and all the latest action from South Africa.
Are you passionate enough?
Are you a fanatical supporter of your national football team? Do you like to shout about your opinions? Become a CNN Super Fan!
Results and Standings
Check out all the scores, group tables and fixtures
CNN teams up with Foursquare
Let your friends know where you're watching the World Cup, and earn CNN badges while you're having fun.