Mental approach holds key to penalty success

VIENNA (Reuters) - Penalty shoot-outs have become part and parcel of tournament football yet some coaches and players still seem to consider defeat by spot-kicks as no defeat at all.

That was certainly the approach of Italy coach Roberto Donadoni after his side lost to Spain in their Euro 2008 quarter-final on Sunday, their fifth major tournament shoot-out defeat.

“We can walk away with our heads held high...I don’t have a reason (to resign) we only lost a game on penalties,” he said, though his approach could be coloured by his own miss when Italy “only lost on penalties” to Argentina in their 1990 World Cup semi-final in Naples.

England also have a woeful penalties record, yet losing managers and even some of the guilty penalty-takers have treated their departure from tournaments as something to smile about.

Fans thought otherwise though and there was an angry backlash when Stuart Pearce, Chris Waddle and Gareth Southgate, all shoot-out missers, made light of their failures in a TV pizza advert.

Germany, who profited from those misses in the semi-finals of the 1990 World Cup and Euro 96, seem to take a far more professional approach and you will not hear them describing the ultimate test of nerve and technique as a lottery.

Having lost their first taste of one to Czechoslovakia to decide the 1976 European championship final they have subsequently won five in a row and have not missed a kick since 1982.

Certainly the mental approach is key. Part of the attraction of watching a shootout is trying to identify who looks “up for it” and who looks as if they would rather be anywhere else at that moment as they trudge the “walk of truth” from centre circle huddle to the loneliest place on earth.


Croatia’s players were still wiping away the tears after Turkey’s stunning equaliser when they tried to steady themselves for their shoot-out in last Friday’s quarter-final. It was no surprise when three failed, two missing the target altogether.

“It’s always more of a psychological problem than a technical problem,” Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said this week in the wake of his player Cesc Fabregas scoring the clincher for Spain.

“I was really worried with Cesc because most of the time he puts his penalties to the right and he changed it. I don’t know what kind of inspiration he got, but he did that and he looked composed and calm.”

Usually, it is the player’s own mind rather than anything the goalkeeper does that makes the difference, and being the best player on the pitch is no protection.

Diego Maradona, Socrates, Michel Platini and David Beckham have all missed shootout kicks, while Roberto Baggio standing head-bowed in horror after he skied the penalty that handed Brazil the 1994 World Cup remains one of the enduring images of sport.

Editing by Trevor Huggins