Sunday, June 13, 2010

Shootout on the Football Pitch

Shootouts have, at the last moment, decided many international soccer games in recent years. Naturally, nerds wanted to know why. Just in time for the World Cup, Keith Devlin, Stanford University math professor and NPR math guy, explains the latest research in sudden death penalty kicks during an interview with Scott Simon.

SIMON: More international games ending this way?

DEVLIN: It certainly seems to be. And that certainly happened with last World Cup when there was an exciting shootout between France and Italy.

SIMON: Yeah.

DEVLIN: And Italy got more penalty kicks.

SIMON: So what can the shooter do to improve his odds?

DEVLIN: Yeah. Well, what piqued my interest in this as a mathematician was a study that was done quite recently within the last few months at Liverpool's John Moores University. They confirmed that the best chance for a kicker is to aim for one of the two callers high and to one side. They found out that the speed has to be between 56 and 65 miles and hour. If it's faster than that, then the kicker is going to lose accuracy. If it's slower than 56 miles an hour, then the goalie has a chance to catch it.

SIMON: Of course, if the goalkeeper knows that the odds favor putting it in one of those corners, the goalkeeper will do his best to be in one of those corners, won't he?

DEVLIN: The goalie has to start somewhere in the middle.

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

DEVLIN: But another interesting study says if the goalie is just between three and five inches off the center point, the kicker is going to kick towards the area that's slightly larger. And so if the goalie is three or five inches to one side but then dives towards the other side, his chances of saving it are going to be higher, so...

SIMON: So the goalie can fake him out by - you know how they love to jump around and twitch their hips, right?

(Soundbite of laughter)

DEVLIN: I think you're talking about goalies psyching them out. The most effective one on this one blew me away when I read about it.

SIMON: Yeah.

DEVLIN: The color of the jersey that the goalkeeper wears is a huge factor. This, by the way, was a study done at the University of Chichester in England. If the keeper wears a red jersey, only 54 percent of penalties will succeed. It goes up to 69 percent if it's yellow. If the keeper wears a blue jersey, 72 percent will go in. And the worst thing that the keeper could do is wear a green jersey because then 75 percent of penalty kicks will go in.

The theory, by the way, is that red is a dominant color. It signifies danger and anger, and so that would attract the kicker's attention. As we all know, if you're looking at something you'll probably head in that direction, so the goalie's job is to get the kicker to look at him. Then the chances are going to be higher because he will be able to save the kick.
Read and listen to the full interview.

Or, you could go with the painted-on jersey.

The life of Indigo Red is full of adventure. Tune in next time for the Further Adventures of Indigo Red.


Anonymous said...

I am sure that would work against me. I would definitely go toward the goal keeper. Don

LOL my scramble word is tinglys

Indigo Red said...

Tinglys - how appropriate, Don!