The Penalty Shootout: Flaws and Alternatives

By | February 13, 2015


Watching last weekend’s African Cup of Nations Final reminded fans everywhere of soccer’s elephant in the room, penalties. The penalty shootout is the one glaring error in a beautiful, near-perfect game. After 120 minutes of battling for each yard and each shot, the game is finally decided by a combination of luck and some level of mind games. The penalty shootout ignores so many aspects of the game. While shooting is obviously a major part of soccer, the shootout eliminates passing, spacing, dribbling, teamwork, physicality, and many forms of tactics from the game. We boil down our beautifully sculpted sport to a backyard shooting contest.

The penalty shootout arose from the logical need to have a final way to end the game. Up until its adoption in 1970, many knockout games were decided by a coin flip or entirely replayed. The coin flip was inherently unfair and a complete replay often took too long and caused many logistical issues. The penalty shootout was proposed after it had been used sparingly with some success. At the time of its adoption, many people accepted it as a better option but still flawed. The International Football Association Board, which decides the rules of soccer, adopted the shootout while still “not entirely satisfied” with the solution. Since then the penalty shootout has become ingrained in soccer. While wildly considered imperfect, no serious efforts have been made to change it. This is largely due to its sheer entertainment value. Soccer is often criticized for being too slow and boring. Anyone that watched the Cup of Nations Final can’t argue with that. The shootout without fail creates a headline, a hero, and a villain. The entertainment value equates to more viewers which equates to more money.

A number of alternatives have been proposed attempting to match the excitement of a penalty shootout with a more soccer-like finale. The 90 minute penalty is one of my favorite alternatives. It would place the penalties at the end of regulation of a tie game. The teams would still play extra-time, and if still tied at 120′ the game would go to the winner of the shootout. The excitement of the shootout remains as well as introducing excitement to an extra-time generally plagued by fatigue and careless play. By giving one team an advantage going into extra-time, the other is forced to play offensively against a team defending to the best of their ability. This method eliminates the possibility of a scapegoat. Missing the final penalty can make any player enemy number 1 in the eyes of their fans. The extra-time period will give those players a chance at redemption. Fans also wont remember the final moment of the game as a penalty off the crossbar.

The second popular alternative is a golden goal extra period with reduced numbers of players. After the first 120 minutes have been played, the teams could enter 10 minute sessions of golden goal where each proceeding round removes a player from each side. By opening up the field, the teams are more likely to score. The greatest positive of this method is that the game will be decided by an actual soccer match. No game will ever end in bout of luck. New tactics will arise as the field spreads out. For example, sweeper-keepers like Neuer would become more valuable with their ability to leave the goal and help a short sided team. The clear disadvantage from using this design is the growing fatigue experienced by players. They could play upwards of 200 minutes in a single game and be expected to play again a few days later in a tournament situation.  FIFA President, Sepp Blatter, expressed his dissaproval of penalties and his support of this plan.
“When it comes to penalty kicks it is a tragedy…Maybe to take players away and play golden goal”. However, he said this in 2006 and no change has been implemented. When faced with the monetary incentive that penalties bring, it ‘s hard to blame him.

Until fans stop watching shootouts or another better solution is proposed, penalties will likely remain the deciding factor of knockout games across the soccer world.

23 thoughts on “The Penalty Shootout: Flaws and Alternatives

  1. David Pilz

    how goes it, honorable blog on blubbery loss. this helped.

  2. Yunos Majerd

    Hi, I’m been involved in football as a player, coach, referee and as an administrator. I strongly believe that the game should be finished in normal time, no extra time or penalty shootout. If the outcome is needed to determine a winner there is a only one and best way. Over the course of the match, whichever teams gets the most corners or freekicks due to opposition conceding fouls, and most shots at goal and dominating the match, that team should be the winner. Similar to boxing, the outcome of the winner is by gaining points. Surely one team will just shade the other in one of the determining factors mentioned above. This will do away with luck and pressure of penalty shootout. Only works with professional football as they have mechanism in place after a match to determine the points gained. However this method can be implemented across all levels of football matches if the mechanism is in place.

  3. WachiraG

    Being a lifelong ardent football player/fan, I wholly advocate for a more efficacious way in ‘overhauling’ FIFA’s penalty-shootout mechanism to resolve stalemates after 120 minutes of open-play…and which I believe is also LONG overdue…

    Allow me to propose three alternative options:

    1) SHORT-CORNERS: the attacking team takes a ‘short-corner-kick’ from the corner of the penalty-box (half-way to the corner-flag); his fellow team-mates (2 in number) will stalk the penalty-area while the opposing team’s defenders (also 2 in number – excluding the ‘keeper) will occupy the 6-yard ‘goal-mouth’ box.
    Once the kick is taken, the attacking team must make their shot on goal within 5 seconds while the two defenders ‘rush-out’ to counter them.
    The ball immediately becomes ‘dead’ if one of the following occurs:- i) the ball touches the ground; or ii) a defender intercepts the ball.

    SECOND OPTION : Teed-up Shots.

    The attacking team places the ball anywhere along the outer-edge of the penalty-box (the edge which runs parrallel to the pitch’s touchline).
    One attacker will tee the ball up for his team-mate who’ll be stationed in the “dee” i.e the semi-circle affixed to the penalty-box.
    Both attacking players may touch the ball only once. The opposing team will have a defender stationed in the 6-yard goal-mouth box and who may ‘rush-out’ and block the shot as soon as the ball has been teed-up.

    THIRD OPTION: Three-Man Wall

    A simple direct free-kick from anywhere within the “dee” (semi-circle affixed to penalty-box) while the defending team counters the free-kick with a three-man wall…


  4. Angelo H

    Penalty shootout before the start of the game when all players are fresh, not injured, not out due to red or yellows obtained during the game. Everyone is eligible to take part (starting 11 or bench players). The pitch is fresh, and the refs are alert. Fans will arrive early and make sure they are there to watch and cheer. The result will only be used if the game ends in a tie at the end of overtime (in a knockout game). It will motivate the team losing the penalties to play a more aggressive style of game from the start to ensure a win and not play for the tie. There will be no scapegoats remebered after 90 or 120 minutes. At the end of the match the players leave the field knowin that a result has been determined.

    If the governing bodies choose, it can be incorporated into league or round robin games, in order to award more points. In a tie, the team that lost on penalties would still get 1 point, but the team that won the penalties would get 2. A “natural” win woul still be 3 points. Again, if a team knew at the start of the match that in a tie the opposition that was ahead on penalties would get 1 more point, it would motivate them to play harder for a win on game goals. Even in a 0-0 draw, one of the teams would be ahead. For the purpose of goal differential, only game goals would be counted.

    Finally, they could allow changes in starting line ups ahead of the start of the match as a result of the outcome of the penalty phase. It would also eliminate the slowing down of the game at the end when substitutions are made to ensure the right penalty kickers are on the field. You would eliminate games where both teams are playing for s draw. One team would always be motivated to play harder, opening up the game. If the team losing on penalties goes up, then the other team would work even harder for the tie, or win.

  5. Venky

    how about the following,

    At the end of regulation play, in extra time change the rules so that the goal keeper cannot use hands.

    There will be more shots at goal, pretty sure this may even be more entertaining and remove the drawbacks of the penalty shoot outs.

    1. Pluky

      I couldn’t agree more with Venky’s suggestion that extra time be played without the goalkeeper’s privilege of using his hands. After all, both teams have already had 90 minutes to produce a result – Why have more of the same? With Venky’s idea, unlike many of the other suggestions, the game remains as a team effort. And it has the added possibility of spectacular long range shots at goal. I would like to add a suggested rule that if extra time results in a draw: the win is awarded to the team who scored first in extra time. If no score in extra time (unlikely), the win is awarded to the team who scored first in regulation time. And if both teams have not scored in either regulation time or extra time, then they (and the spectators) fully deserve to go to a penalty shootout.

    2. Mr Lucky

      I like the idea of 90 minute penalties. It makes perfect sense. But just to make sure there is less emphasis on the penalty result, why not combine 90 minute penalties with extra time minus the goalkeeping position? After all the keeper has already done his job in the shootout. He can have a rest. Extra time will then be determined (in spectacular fashion) by the rest of the players. 10 minutes each way should be enough. Best attacking team should win. This would help guard against negative defensive play by the penalty winning team.

  6. Scott

    What are you guys talking about????? Penalty Shootouts are a massive part of football, and they can be just as exiting as a whole match can be. Sure it’s heartbreaking if you lose, but it’s amazing when you win. Teams know before they start a match if a shootout is possible, so when a match goes to extra time, both sides know they have 30 minutes to score a goal if they don’t want a shoutout. So in total both sides have then had 2 hours play to win the match, so if neither team can win in that time, then a shootout is the best way to decide who should win. I can’t believe this is even being discussed, but I see most people on here are referring to the sport as soccer and not football, which probably explains why you guys don’t appreciate shootouts.

  7. Fabricio Montano

    And by having a 90 minute match, players aren’t forced to play an additional 30 minutes increasing the risk of injury to valuable players.

  8. Fabricio Montano

    A way to end the match by playing is to award the game to the team that scores first. Hear me out. This is actually one of the tiebreakers in FIFA tournaments. FIFA wants to see more goals and attacking play. Not long ago, the offside rule was changed to reflect this, and as a result we see more 1v1 with the keeper and more possibilities for a goal. So, if we are coming to the end of the match with the score tied the team that didn’t score first must now score to win. This causes a lot of intense action knowing there are definitively 90 minutes in a match, and also makes for a great start to the match where each team is trying to score that first goal for the advantage like the away goal rule we see in international club matches. No system is going to be perfect, but by having a system in which all the tactics, strategies, etc are in play I think is equitable for all.

    1. Hernán G

      “Not long ago, the offside rule was changed to reflect this”, the last change was in 1925!!! In 1990 and 2003, only clarifying amendments were made as to the interpretation of the rule (the key was in 1990 clarifying that if the striker was on the same line of the second-to-last defender should not be considered off-side)…

  9. Tom WIlls

    Rather than resolving tied games by penalty shoot-outs, I suggest that the outcome should be decided by counting the number of times the goalkeeper was forced to catch the ball and take a free kick. The team that causes more goalkeeper catches has clearly been attacking more and should be rewarded.
    The change may cause the goalkeepers to be less inclined to smother an attack by catching the ball and so allowing more opportunities for goals. That would eliminate the need to resolve a tied game in the first place.

  10. Patrick A.C.

    One thing that I think is important to note is that, according to the FIFA laws of the game, a match that ends in a penalty shootout is recorded as a draw, with the shootout merely determining who will advance. It does not determine an actual winner to the match, but in certain cases determines the title.

  11. nick gee

    Attacker, defender, goalkeeper or ADG. This was invented by Timothy Farrell and in simple terms an attacker has 30 seconds to try to score from the halfway line against a defender and golakeeper who can try to stop him. For the whole rules regarding this look it up on google. This method is more closer to the an actual soccer match played during normal time and also has all the excitement and tension of the penalty shootout if not more. Also the more skillful team is likely to win.

  12. S Egan

    A simple alternative to the penalty shootout in tournament play.

    Principle- there should be an imbalance in the knockout game from the first moment to the last. What happens during the game should have the potential to tip this imbalance the other way.

    1. Imbalance before game starts- advantage lies with team with best tournament record to date.
    2. Imbalance during game (goal advantage) – last winning goal counts double. In other words, if score 3-3, team who scored their third goal first has advantage.
    Exception is when a team draws level from a two (or more) goal deficit. Advantage now with this team.

    If score level after extra time, team with advantage wins tie.

  13. Maddie Keyes

    It is really bizarre how often soccer matches are decided by something as arbitrary as penalty kicks. I was talking to my little brother today after his soccer tournament this weekend and he told me 2 out of his 4 games were decided by penalty kicks, which is insane. I definitely agree that there are better alternatives to this for deciding games.

    I’ve had personal experience with the reduced number of players idea in an indoor soccer championship game when I was a U13 player. We went from having seven players on the field all the way down to one versus one full field. Although my friend who ended up being the single player on our side collapsed from exhaustion at the end, her efforts ended up winning us the game single-handedly. I really liked this method initially as it took some of the pressure away from the would-be penalty kickers, but it also definitively increases the pressure on that last person on the pitch. Having to run full field by yourself with no outside help is extraordinarily tiring physically, but also almost impossible mentally as having to focus so intensely for an entire game plus stoppage plus the penalty shootout equivalent is ridiculous. Although I really like the idea as it definitely does showcase the skills of the individual players moreso than a penalty shootout, it might not be the best alternative as it is just taking the players from one stressful situation to another, and still offers the possibility that one player could lose the game for the entire team.

    1. Steve McCrea, teacher

      Observation about your comment: >>> It is really bizarre how often soccer matches are decided by something as arbitrary as penalty kicks. <<<

      Why not use TWO BALLS on the field at the end of the tied game? After 90 minutes (regulation play), just add a second ball and see who scores first.

      Section III. The Game
      C. Play is started in each half by each goalie putting a ball into play.

      This rule comes from a University of Massachusetts PDF

      I"m a high school teacher and I've seen in classrooms how the differences between brain styles affect how students learn and interact with a challenge. Some students will be able to track both balls, while others will focus on one ball. The strategies to both defend and press forward will be interesting. Perhaps one side will try to hold the ball it enters and then steal the other ball… then attempt to drive both balls forward so that near-simultaneous kicks on the opponent's goal will result in a more-likely goal.

      Many sports matches already have multiple cameras. The technology exists to split a TV screen. The audience simply needs to adapt to switching their attention between the two camera shots, showing the ball play.

      What do you think? University of Massachusetts has come up with a name "2-ball soccer"… Does anyone know of other places that use two balls on the field at the same time?

      I mention this because the use of the "two-ball" rule would cause some students to

    2. Hernán G

      “It is really bizarre how often soccer matches are decided by something as arbitrary as penalty kicks”…first is called Football…the penalty kicks don’t are arbitrary, you have some players that rarely fail a penalty, i.e Ortigoza have a 94,11% of effectiveness (32/34), but in the other hand you have some players that almost always fail…and the same with goalkeepers, “Périco” Pérez i.e. saved 19 penalties in a row (21 in all his career), Gatti & Fillol 26…and that only in Argentine Premier Division…or other specialist, Goycochea saving 5 of 10 in 1990 WC

  14. Emmeline Yoo

    Penalty shootouts are especially interesting where I am from because the high school I went to in New Jersey has a very successful and impressive soccer program. New Jersey high school soccer county and state games are not allowed to go into penalty shootouts. As a result, it is common to crown co-champions at the county and state championships. Although it can seem disheartening and extremely anticlimactic, I believe that crowning co-champions has psychological benefits. There is an overwhelming pressure to make game-winning saves and penalty shots that could adversely affect a player’s psyche. By avoiding the psychological damage caused by missing a penalty shot or save, I believe that a co-champion win is a fair alternative.

  15. Emmeline Yoo

    Penalty shootouts are especially interesting from where I am from because I went to a high school in New Jersey with a really successful and impressive soccer program. NJ high school soccer county and championship games are not allowed to go into penalty shootouts. For multiple state and county finals, it is common to crown co-champions when a game ends in a tie. Although it seems disheartening and extremely anticlimactic, I think psychologically, crowning co-champions is the much better alternative. There is an overwhelming pressure to not miss and to make saves that can adversely affect a player’s psyche.

  16. Frannie Sensenbrenner

    I’m so glad you chose to write about this, Connor. Penalty kicks are an aspect of soccer that I never really could wrap my head around. Having played both soccer and ice hockey, I know the “what if” feeling that comes from participating in penalty kicks/shootouts well. It always feels like the game is decided unfairly and the penalty kicks are an inaccurate representation of the skill levels of the teams. In an ideal world, it would be awesome to play out a golden goal-fight to the death scenario every time a game ends in a tie. Like you said, this is impossible due to fatigue, especially in a tournament setting. I really liked the idea of the 90 minute penalty. I think it incentivises players in a different way, forcing them to be engaged for a full 120 minutes. It also ensures that there will be both penalty kicks and extra time, something a traditional shootout doesn’t guarantee. Looking at the description of the golden goal extra period with reduced numbers of players makes me tired. I couldn’t imagine being one of the last players standing, but could envision it being exhausting. In researching other alternatives to the penalty shootout, I found an intriguing idea that emerged in the United States in the 1970s. It is called one-on-one confrontations, and essentially puts penalty kicks into a more realistic setting. The attacker is given the ball about 35 yards out and is allowed to dribble and move before taking a shot on the goaltender. It aims to replicate the time during the game when the attacker has the ball and is going one on one with the goalkeeper. I thought this was an interesting strategy because it combines the excitement of a shootout with an actual part of the game, and emphasizes skills other than shooting. In summary, I don’t think there is a perfect way to end a tied game, but trying alternatives cannot hurt.

    1. Francesca Brancati

      I like the idea of one-on-one confrontations, and I was wondering if you think they should be implemented for penalty kicks in regulation play. I understand that penalty kicks in regulation are due to fouls, and therefore the defensive team should be put at a fairly large disadvantage because they cheated to prevent the other team from scoring. However, penalty kicks in regulation often decide matches since soccer is such a low-scoring game, and many times the fouls are highly controversial. There are many instances where the foul had no affect on the offensive team scoring, but they were still given a match-deciding penalty kick. For instance, in a Major League Soccer match between San Jose and Seattle in 2012, Seattle won 1-0 after scoring a penalty kick, but the penalty kick was given for a slight foul off the ball ( Since penalty kicks are so significant during regulation, I think implementing a one-on-one with the goalkeeper, not just to end the game but also to replace penalty kicks during the game, would make the game a lot more skill-based and fair.


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