Penalty Kicks: An In-Depth Look

In the high-stress situation of close games, penalty kicks offer players a rare goal scoring chance. The penalty kick procedure is similar but not exactly the same as the penalty shootout process that some tournaments require to determine which team advances or wins a tournament in an otherwise drawn match. The format of the kicks is very similar, though a separate set of rules governs shootouts, often referred to as PKs.

Penalty kicks are awarded for an offense punishable by a direct free kick or a handball committed in the penalty area, the 18 yard box surrounding the goal. A player of the fouled team may shoot a penalty kick from the 12 yard marker directly in front of the goal. The referee will signal the award of a penalty kick by blowing their whistle and pointing to the penalty spot. Given the close proximity of the penalty kick, even the best goalkeepers are scored against more often than they are able to make a save.

When a player is in position to take the penalty kick, all other players besides the defending keeper must be outside the penalty area, and at least 10 yards from the ball until the ball is touched. Once the referee signals his whistle, the player approaches the ball and strikes it forward towards the goal, perhaps with a stutter step or slow down to trick the goalie. If the player stops in the process of actually striking the ball, the penalty must be retaken.

Once the ball has been touched by the player taking the penalty, live play resumes and the ball may deflect off the goalkeeper or the goal frame. However, the player kicking the penalty must not touch the ball until again until another player touches it. This rule has been taken advantage of famously by Johan Cruyff of Dutch team Ajax in the 1980s. The trick is to approach the penalty but pass it off to the side as a teammate runs upon it to force a 2-on-1 with the goalie. The famous move was tried and failed by Arsenal players Thierry Henry and Rober Pirés in 2005. Pirés barely touches the ball, and since Henry was out of position, the defending players were able to deny the chance. See both videos below:

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