Penalty kick (association football)

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Player preparing to take a penalty kick, 2013. Chicago Fire v. Club America 2013 38.jpg
Player preparing to take a penalty kick, 2013.

A penalty kick (commonly known as a penalty or a PK) is a method of restarting play in association football, in which a player is allowed to take a single shot on the goal while it is defended only by the opposing team's goalkeeper. It is awarded when a foul punishable by a direct free kick is committed by a player in their own penalty area. The shot is taken from the penalty mark, which is 12 yards (11 m) from the goal line and centred between the touch lines.

Association football Team field sport

Association football, more commonly known as football or soccer, is a team sport played with a spherical ball between two teams of eleven players. It is played by 250 million players in over 200 countries and dependencies, making it the world's most popular sport. The game is played on a rectangular field called a pitch with a goal at each end. The object of the game is to score by moving the ball beyond the goal line into the opposing goal.

Goalkeeper (association football) Position in association football

The goalkeeper, often shortened to keeper or goalie, is one of the major positions of association football. It is the most specialised position in the sport. The goalkeeper's primary role is to prevent the opposing team from scoring. This is accomplished by the goalkeeper moving into the path of the ball and either catching it or directing it away from the vicinity of the goal line. Within the penalty area goalkeepers are able to use their hands, making them the only players on the field permitted to handle the ball. The special status of goalkeepers is indicated by them wearing different coloured kits from their teammates.

Penalty area

The penalty area or 18-yard box is an area of an association football pitch. It is rectangular and extends 16.5m to each side of the goal and 16.5m in front of it. Within the penalty area is the penalty spot, which is 10.97 metres (36.0 ft) or 12 yards from the goal line, directly in-line with the centre of the goal. A penalty arc adjoins the penalty area, and encloses the area within 9.15m from the penalty spot; it does not form part of the penalty area and is only of relevance during the taking of a penalty kick.


In practice, penalty kicks result in goals more often than not, even against the best and most experienced goalkeepers. This means that penalty awards are game-changing decisions and often decisive, particularly in low-scoring games.

Scoring in association football

In games of association football teams compete to score the most goals during the match. A goal is scored when the ball passes completely over a goal line at each end of the field of play between two centrally positioned upright goal posts 24 feet (7.32 m) apart and underneath a horizontal crossbar at a height of 8 feet (2.44 m) — this frame is also referred to as a goal. Each team aims to score at one end of the pitch, while preventing their opponents from scoring at the other. Nets are usually attached to the goal frame to catch goalscoring balls, but the ball is not required to touch the net.

Similar kicks are made in a penalty shootout in some tournaments to determine which team is victorious after a drawn match; these are governed by slightly different rules.

A penalty shoot-out is a method of determining which team is awarded victory in an association football match that cannot end in a draw, when the score is tied after the regulation playing time as well as extra time have expired. In a penalty shoot-out, each team takes turns shooting at goal from the penalty mark, with the goal only defended by the opposing team's goalkeeper. Each team has five shots which must be taken by different kickers; the team that makes more successful kicks is declared the victor. Shoot-outs finish as soon as one team has an insurmountable lead. If scores are level after five pairs of shots, the shootout progresses into additional "sudden-death" rounds. Balls successfully kicked into the goal during a shoot-out do not count as goals for the individual kickers or the team, and are tallied separately from the goals scored during normal play. Although the procedure for each individual kick in the shoot-out resembles that of a penalty kick, there are some differences. Most notably, neither the kicker nor any player other than the goalkeeper may play the ball again once it has been kicked.


Kevin Muscat taking a penalty for Melbourne Victory FC in 2008 Kevin Muscat's Penalty (2330740936).jpg
Kevin Muscat taking a penalty for Melbourne Victory FC in 2008

The ball is placed on the penalty mark, regardless of where in the penalty area the foul occurred. The player taking the kick is to be identified to the referee. Only the kicker and the defending team's goalkeeper are allowed to be within the penalty area; all other players must be within the field of play but outside the penalty area, behind the penalty mark, and a minimum of 10 yards (9.1 m) from the penalty mark (the penalty arc denotes 10 yards from the penalty mark). The goalkeeper must stand on the goal line between the goal posts until the ball is kicked. Lateral movement is allowed, but the goalkeeper is not permitted to come off the goal line by stepping or lunging forward until the ball is in play. The assistant referee responsible for the goal line where the penalty kick is being taken is positioned at the intersection of the penalty area and goal line, and assists the referee in looking for infringements and/or whether a goal is scored.

When the referee is satisfied that the players are properly positioned, they blow the whistle to indicate that the kicker may kick. The kicker may make feinting (deceptive or distracting) moves during the run-up to the ball, but once the run-up is completed they may no longer feint and must kick the ball. The ball must be stationary before the kick, and it must be kicked forward. The ball is in play once it is kicked and moves, and at that time other players may enter the penalty area. Once kicked, the kicker may not touch the ball again until it has been touched by another player of either team or goes out of play (including into the goal).


In case of an infringement of the laws of the game during a penalty kick, most commonly entering the penalty area illegally, the referee must consider both whether the ball entered the goal, and which team(s) committed the offence.

Result of the kickNo violationViolation by the attacking team onlyViolation by the defence onlyViolation by both
Enters the goalGoalRekickGoalRekick
Goes directly out of boundsGoal kickGoal kickRekickRekick
Rebounds into play from goal frame/goalkeeperPlay continuesIndirect free kickRekickRekick
Saved & held by goalkeeperPlay continuesPlay continuesRekickRekick
Deflected out of bounds by goalkeeperCorner kickIndirect free kickRekickRekick

The following infringements committed by the kicking team result in an indirect free kick for the defending team, regardless of the outcome of the kick:

In the case of a player repeatedly infringing the laws during the penalty kick, the referee may caution the player for persistent infringement. Note that all offences that occur before kick may be dealt with in this manner, regardless of the location of the offence.

If the ball touches an outside agent (i.e., an object foreign to the playing field) as it moves forward from the kick, the kick is retaken.

Tap penalty

A two-man penalty, or "tap" penalty, occurs when the kicker, instead of shooting for goal, taps the ball slightly forward so that a teammate can run on to it and shoot. If properly executed, it is a legal play since the kicker is not required to shoot for goal and need only kick the ball forward. This strategy relies heavily on the element of surprise, as it first requires the goalkeeper to believe the kicker will actually shoot, then dive or move to one side in response. It then requires the goalkeeper to remain out of position long enough for the kicker's teammate to reach the ball before any defenders, and for that teammate to place a shot on the undefended side of the goal.

The first recorded tap penalty was taken by Jimmy McIlroy and Danny Blanchflower of Northern Ireland against Portugal on 1 May 1957. [1] Another was taken by Rik Coppens and André Piters in the World Cup Qualifying match Belgium v Iceland on 5 June 1957. Another attempt was made by Mike Trebilcock and John Newman, playing for Plymouth Argyle in 1964. [2] Later on, Johan Cruyff tried the same with his Ajax team-mate Jesper Olsen in 1982. [2]

James McIlroy was a Northern Ireland international footballer, who played for Glentoran, Burnley, Stoke City and Oldham Athletic. He was regarded as one of Burnley's greatest players, having played 497 matches and scoring 131 goals. McIlroy also managed Oldham Athletic and Bolton Wanderers.

Danny Blanchflower Northern Irish footballer

Robert Dennis "Danny" Blanchflower was a Northern Ireland international footballer who played for and captained Tottenham Hotspur, most notably during its double-winning season of 1960–61. He played as a defensive midfielder at right half and was known particularly for his accurate passing, his ability to dictate the tempo of the game and his inspiring leadership.. After a lengthy playing career, he retired at the age of 38 and became a respected football journalist, and later a football manager.

Northern Ireland national football team mens national association football team representing Northern Ireland

The Northern Ireland national football team represents Northern Ireland in international association football. From 1882 to 1920, all of Ireland was represented by a single side, the Ireland national football team, organised by the Irish Football Association (IFA). In 1921, the jurisdiction of the IFA was reduced to Northern Ireland following the secession of clubs in the soon-to-be Irish Free State, although its team remained the national team for all of Ireland until 1950, and used the name Ireland until the 1970s. The Football Association of Ireland (FAI) organises the separate Republic of Ireland national football team.

Arsenal players Thierry Henry and Robert Pires failed in an attempt at a similar penalty in 2005, during a Premier League match against Manchester City at Highbury. Pires ran in to take the kick, attempted to pass to the onrushing Henry, but miskicked and the ball hardly moved; as he had slightly touched the ball, he could not touch it again, and City defender Sylvain Distin cleared the ball before Henry could shoot. [3]

Lionel Messi tapped a penalty for Luis Suárez as Suárez completed his hat-trick on 14 February 2016 against league opponents Celta de Vigo. [4]

Saving tactics

A goalkeeper makes a save from a penalty kick

"Reading" the kicker

A penalty being scored by Ryan Valentine. Ryan Valentine scores.jpg
A penalty being scored by Ryan Valentine.

Defending against a penalty kick is one of the most difficult tasks a goalkeeper can face. Owing to the short distance between the penalty spot and the goal, there is very little time to react to the shot. Because of this, the goalkeeper will usually start his or her dive before the ball is actually struck. In effect, the goalkeeper must act on his best prediction about where the shot will be aimed. Some goalkeepers decide which way they will dive beforehand, thus giving themselves a good chance of diving in time. Others try to read the kicker's motion pattern. On the other side, kickers often feign and prefer a relatively slow shot in an attempt to foil the goalkeeper. The potentially most fruitful approach, shooting high and centre, i.e., in the space that the goalkeeper will evacuate, also carries the highest risk of shooting above the bar.

As the shooter makes his approach to the ball, the goalkeeper has only a fraction of a second to "read" the shooter's motions and decide where the ball will go. If their guess is correct, this may result in a missed penalty. Helmuth Duckadam, Steaua București's goalkeeper, saved a record four consecutive penalties in the 1986 European Cup Final against Barcelona. He dived three times to the right and a fourth time to his left to save all penalties taken, securing victory for his team.

Use of knowledge of kicker's history

A goalkeeper may also rely on knowledge of the shooter's past behaviour to inform his decision. An example of this would be by former Netherlands national team goalkeeper Hans van Breukelen, who always had a box with cards with all the information about the opponent's penalty specialist. Ecuadorian goalkeeper Marcelo Elizager saving a penalty from Carlos Tevez in a match between Ecuador and Argentina, revealed that he had studied some penalty kicks from Tévez and suspected he was going to shoot to the goalkeeper's left side. Two other examples occurred during the 2006 FIFA World Cup:

  1. Portugal national team goalkeeper Ricardo in a quarter-final match against England, where he saved three penalties out of four.
  2. The quarter-final match between Argentina and Germany also came down to penalties, and German goalkeeper Jens Lehmann was seen looking at a piece of paper kept in his sock before each Argentinian player would come forward for a penalty kick. It is presumed that information on each kicker's "habits" were written on this paper. Lehmann saved two of the four penalties taken and came close to saving a third.

This approach may not always be successful; the player may intentionally switch from his favoured spot after witnessing the goalkeeper obtaining knowledge of his kicks. Most times, especially in amateur football, the goalkeeper is often forced to guess. Game theoretic research shows that strikers and goalies must randomize their strategies in precise ways to avoid having the opponent take advantage of their predictability. [5]


The goalkeeper also may try to distract the penalty taker, as the expectation is on the penalty taker to succeed, hence more pressure on the penalty taker, making him more vulnerable to mistakes. For example, in the 2008 UEFA Champions League Final between Manchester United and Chelsea, United goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar pointed to his left side when Nicolas Anelka stepped up to take a shot in the penalty shoot out. This was because all of Chelsea's penalties went to the left. Anelka's shot instead went to Van der Sar's right, which was saved. Liverpool goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar used a method of distracting the players called the "spaghetti legs" trick to help his club defeat Roma to win the 1984 European Cup. This tactic was emulated in the 2005 UEFA Champions League Final, which Liverpool also won, by Liverpool goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek, helping his team defeat Milan.

An illegal method of saving penalties is for the goalkeeper to make a quick and short jump forward just before the penalty taker connects with the ball. This not only shuts down the angle of the shot, but also distracts the penalty taker. The method was used by Brazilian goalkeeper Cláudio Taffarel. FIFA was less strict on the rule during that time. In more recent times, FIFA has advised all referees to strictly obey the rule book.[ citation needed ]

Similarly, a goalkeeper may also attempt to delay a penalty by cleaning his boots, asking the referee to see if the ball is placed properly and other delaying tactics. This method builds more pressure on the penalty taker, but the goalkeeper may risk punishments, most likely a yellow card.

A goalkeeper can also try to distract the taker by talking to them prior to the penalty being taken. Netherlands national team goalkeeper Tim Krul used this technique during the penalty shootout in the quarter-final match of the 2014 FIFA World Cup against Costa Rica. As the Costa Rican players were preparing to take the kick, Krul told them that he ''knew where they were going to put their penalty'' in order to ''get in their heads''. [6] This resulted in him saving two penalties and the Netherlands winning the shootout 4–3.

Under new IFAB rule changes, if the penalty taker attempts to feint or dummy the opposing goalkeeper after completing the run-up to the ball, the taker will be punished with a yellow card, and will not be allowed to retake the kick. [7] [8]

Scoring statistics

Even if the goalkeeper succeeds in blocking the shot, the ball may rebound back to the penalty taker or one of his teammates for another shot, with the goalkeeper often in a poor position to make a second save. This makes saving penalty kicks more difficult. This is not a concern in penalty shoot-outs, where only a single shot is permitted.

These factors would give one the impression that penalty kicks are converted almost 100% of the time. Missed penalty kicks, however, are not uncommon: for instance, of the 78 penalty kicks taken during the 2005–06 English Premier League season, 57 resulted in a goal, thus almost 30% of the penalties were unsuccessful. [9]

A German professor who has been studying penalty statistics in the German Bundesliga for 16 years found 76% of all the penalties during those 16 years went in, and 99% of the shots in the higher half of the goal went in[ citation needed ], although the higher half of the goal is a more difficult target to aim at. During his career, Italian striker Roberto Baggio had two occurrences where his shot hit the upper bar, bounced downwards, rebounded off the keeper and passed the goal line for a goal.

Saving statistics

Some goalkeepers have become well known for their ability to save penalty kicks. One such goalkeeper is Brazilian goalkeeper Diego Alves, who boasts a 49 percent save success rate. Other goalkeepers with high save rates include Claudio Bravo, Kevin Trapp, Samir Handanovic, Gianluigi Buffon, Danijel Subasic, and Manuel Neuer. [10] [11]


Early proposals

The original laws of the game, in 1863, had no punishments for infringements of the rules. [12] In 1872, the indirect free kick was introduced as a punishment for handball, and later for other offences. [13] This indirect free-kick was thought to be an inadequate remedy for a handball which prevented an otherwise-certain goal. As a result of this, in 1882 a law was introduced to award a goal to a team prevented from scoring by an opponent's handball. This law lasted only one season before being abolished in 1883.

Introduction of the penalty-kick

When first introduced in 1891, the penalty was awarded for offences within 12 yards of the goal-line. Association Football Pitch 1898.png
When first introduced in 1891, the penalty was awarded for offences within 12 yards of the goal-line.

The invention of the penalty kick is credited to the goalkeeper and businessman William McCrum in 1890 in Milford, County Armagh, Ireland. [14] The Irish Football Association presented the idea to the International Football Association Board's 1890 meeting, where it was deferred until the next meeting in 1891. [15]

Two incidents in the 1890–1 season lent additional force to the argument for the penalty kick. On 20 December 1890, in the Scottish Cup quarter-final between East Stirlingshire and Heart of Midlothian Jimmy Adams [16] fisted the ball out from under the bar, [17] [18] and on14 February 1891, there was a blatant goal-line handball by a Notts County player in the FA Cup quarter-final against Stoke City

Finally after much debate, the International Football Association Board approved the idea on 2 June 1891. [19] [20] The penalty-kick law ran:

If any player shall intentionally trip or hold an opposing player, or deliberately handle the ball, within twelve yards from his own goal-line, the referee shall, on appeal, award the opposing side a penalty kick, to be taken from any point twelve yards from the goal-line, under the following conditions:— All players, with the exception of the player taking the penalty kick and the opposing goalkeeper (who shall not advance more than six yards from the goal-line) shall stand at least six yards behind the ball. The ball shall be in play when the kick is taken, and a goal may be scored from the penalty kick. [21]

Some notable differences between this original 1891 law and today's penalty-kick are listed below:

The world's first penalty kick was awarded to Airdrieonians in 1891 at Broomfield Park, [22] and the first penalty kick in the Football League was awarded to Wolverhampton Wanderers in their match against Accrington at Molineux Stadium on 14 September 1891. The penalty was taken and scored by "Billy" Heath [23] as Wolves went on to win the game 5–0.

Subsequent developments

The laws of 1902 introduced the modern penalty area and the penalty spot Plan of the field of play for association football (1902).png
The laws of 1902 introduced the modern penalty area and the penalty spot

In 1892, the player taking the penalty-kick was forbidden to kick the ball again before the ball had touched another player. A provision was also added that "[i]f necessary, time of play shall be extended to admit of the penalty kick being taken". [24]

In 1896, the ball was required to be kicked forward, and the requirement for an appeal was removed. [25]

In 1902, the penalty area was introduced with its current dimensions (a rectangle extending 18 yards from the goal-posts). The penalty spot was also introduced, 12 yards from the goal. All other players were required to be outside the penalty area. [26]

In 1905, the goal-keeper was required to remain on the goal-line. [27]

In 1923, all other players were required to be at least 10 yards from the penalty-spot (in addition to being outside the penalty-area). [28]

In 1930, a footnote was appended to the laws, stating that "the goal-keeper must not move his feet until the penalty kick has been taken". [29]

In 1937, an arc (colloquially known as the "D") was added to the pitch markings, to assist in the enforcement of the 10-yard restriction. [30] The goal-keeper was required to stand between the goal-posts. [31]

In 1995, all other players were required to remain behind the penalty spot. The Scottish Football Association claimed that this new provision would "eliminate various problems which have arisen regarding the position of players who stand in front of the penalty-mark at the taking of a penalty-kick as is presently permitted". [32]

In 1997, the goal-keeper was once again allowed to move the feet, and was also required to face the kicker. [33]

The question of "feinting" during the run-up to a penalty has occupied the International FA Board since 1982, when it decided that "if a player stops in his run-up it is an offence for which he shall be cautioned (for ungentlemanly conduct) by the referee". [34] However, in 1985 the same body reversed itself, deciding that the "assumption that feigning was an offence" was "wrong", and that it was up to the Referee to decide whether any instance should be penalized as ungentlemanly conduct. [35] From 2000 to 2006, documents produced by IFAB specified that feinting during the run-up to a penalty-kick was permitted. [36] In 2007, this guidance emphasized that "if in the opinion of the referee the feinting is considered an act of unsporting behaviour, the player shall be cautioned". [37] In 2010, because of concern over "an increasing trend in players feinting a penalty kick to deceive the goalkeeper", a proposal was adopted to specify that while "feinting in the run-up to take a penalty kick to confuse opponents is permitted as part of football", "feinting to kick the ball once the player has completed his run-up is considered an infringement of Law 14 and an act of unsporting behaviour for which the player must be cautioned". [38]


DateLocation of offenceLocation of penalty-kickPosition of goal-keeperPosition of other playersGoal-keeper may move feetTaker may kick ball twiceBall may be kicked backwardKicker may feintGoal may be scored
1891Within 12 yards of the goal-lineFrom any point 12 yards from the goal-lineWithin 6 yards of the goal-lineAt least 6 yards behind the ballYesYesYesUnless considered ungentlemanly behaviourYes
1902Within the penalty areaFrom the penalty spotWithin the goal areaOutside the penalty area
1905On the goal line
1923Outside the penalty area, and at least 10 yards from the ball
1937On the goal line between the posts
1985Unless considered ungentlemanly / unsporting behaviour
1995Outside the penalty area, at least 10 yards from the ball, and behind the ball
2010Unless the run-up is complete

Offences for which a penalty kick was awarded

Since its introduction in 1891, a penalty kick has been awarded for two broad categories of offences:

The number of offences eligible for punishment by a penalty-kick, small when initially introduced in 1891, expanded rapidly thereafter. This led to some confusion: for example, in September 1891, a referee awarded a penalty kick against a goalkeeper who "[lost] his temper and [kicked] an opponent", even though under the 1891 laws this offence was punishable only by an indirect free-kick. [39]

The table below shows the punishments [40] specified by the laws for offences involving handling the ball or physical contact, between 1890 and 1903:

DateHandballTrippingPushingHoldingKicking a playerJumping at a playerCharging from behind [41] Technical handling violations by the goalkeeper [42] Charging the goalkeeper [41] Dangerous play [43]
1890Indirect free-kickIndirect free-kickIndirect free-kickIndirect free-kickIndirect free-kickIndirect free-kickIndirect free-kickIndirect free-kickNot prohibitedNot prohibited
1891Indirect free-kick / Penalty-kickIndirect free-kick / Penalty-kickIndirect free-kick / Penalty-kick
1892Indirect free-kick
1893Indirect free-kick / Penalty-kickIndirect free-kick
1897Indirect free-kick / Penalty-kick
1901Indirect free-kick / Penalty-kick
1902Indirect free-kick / Penalty-kick
1903Direct free-kick / Penalty-kickDirect free-kick / Penalty-kickDirect free-kick / Penalty-kickDirect free-kick / Penalty-kickDirect free-kick / Penalty-kickDirect free-kick / Penalty-kickDirect free-kick / Penalty-kick

Since 1903, the offences for which a penalty kick is awarded within the defending team's penalty area have been identical to those for which a direct free kick is awarded outside the defending team's penalty area.

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Corner kick method of restarting play in association football

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Penalty shot

A penalty shot or penalty kick is a play used in several sports whereby a goal is attempted during untimed play. Depending on the sport, when a player commits certain types of penalties, the opposition is awarded a penalty shot or kick attempt. The rules on how a player attempts a penalty shot or kick also varies between sports.

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A free kick is a method of restarting play in association football. It is awarded after an infringement of the laws by the opposing team.


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  39. "En Passant". Athletic News and Cyclists' Journal. xiii (835): 1. 21 September 1891.
  40. excluding caution / sending-off
  41. 1 2 Subject to certain exceptions: see the individual editions of the laws for details
  42. Taking more than two steps while holding the ball in own half; also, before 1901, handling the ball in own half for a purpose other than defence of the keeper's goal.
  43. Between 1892 and 1901, also "play[ing] in any manner likely to cause injury"

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