See the same question posted by me on Quora.

I was surprised to read the following statistics regarding the success rate of national teams in football penalty shootouts:

enter image description here

  Argentina     73%
  Germany       71%
  Brazil        64%
  France        50%
  Sweden        50%
  Uruguay       50%
  Italy         33%
  Netherlands   20%
  England       17%

The data was taken from the following competitions:

  • the World Cup
  • the European Championship (known as the European Nations Cup until 1976)
  • the African Cup of Nations
  • the Copa América
  • the Asian Nations Cup
  • African Games
  • Afro–Asian Cup of Nations
  • Asian Games
  • Confederation of Southern African Football Associations Cup (COSAFA)
  • Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup (CECAFA; also known as Al Amoudi Senior Challenge Cup)
  • Confederación Centroamericana y del Caribe de Fútbol (CCCF and CONCACAF) tournaments
  • FIFA/Confederations Cup
  • Gold Cup
  • Intercontinental Championship
  • Olympic Games
  • Panamerican Games
  • South Asian Gold Cup
  • South Asian Football Federation Cup
  • South East Asian Games
  • Tiger Cup
  • West Asian Games
  • West Asian Championship.

Is there any reason that explains such a discrepancy between teams? I would have expected the distribution to be much more uniform, as I felt that professional players would be trained pretty much the same around the world when it comes to kicking penalties.

  • 1
    mmmm.. What kind of answer do you expect? the reason could be multiple, but unless you do a social study about this, I don't think this can be reasonabily answer.
    – gbianchi
    Commented Jul 17, 2014 at 17:11
  • Do you know how many shootouts these teams have participated in? I'm willing to guess that at least some of these numbers are based off of small sample sizes.
    – Duncan
    Commented Jul 17, 2014 at 17:45
  • @Duncan Yep see penaltyshootouts.co.uk/countries.html Commented Jul 17, 2014 at 17:51
  • @gbianchi training methods, players individual perfs, stat artefact, strategy focus, etc. Commented Jul 17, 2014 at 22:14
  • @gbianchi Here are some examples of reasons: quora.com/Football-Soccer-2/… Commented Jul 18, 2014 at 17:25

4 Answers 4


The results, as presented on the webpage, are not that surprising. I downloaded the chart of all countries and ran a histogram of the performances (discounting countries that only had 1 or two shootouts, as they are a very small sample size). 54 countries had participated in 3 or more shootouts and here is the histogram.

enter image description here

It's a reasonable approximation of a normal curve - the 40-50 bin is a lot higher than the 50-60 bin because all the 50% results go in there.

The standard deviation of this set is 19.9 and the mean is 49.17. This means that if we randomly selected some countries from the list, we would expect approximately 2/3 of them involved to fall between a 30% and 70% win rate. Of the countries you listed, 5 of the 9 fall within that range (and Germany is just outside it), so that's about on par.

So what does this mean? It seems to imply that penalty shootout results are somewhat random, even for teams from "Major" nations, as they closely match up with what we might expect from a random selection of countries.

Here's a decent FiveThirtyEight article about extra time and penalties.

  • 2
    Top tip: draw your histogram buckets from 0-5, 5-15, etc :-) Commented Jan 23, 2015 at 9:49

The first penalty shoot out that England had was against West Germany at Italia 90. England of course lost.

Peter Shilton was the England keeper, who at exactly 6 foot tall is smaller than most keepers. His tactic in that penalty shoot out was to dive after the ball had been struck (rather than the usual method of picking a side). He dove the correct way each time but was nowhere near any of the penalties, all of which were well struck, all in the corners.

Meanwhile the German players had been regularly practising their kicks, just in case any of their matches went to the shoot out (still a rarity in those days). The English players however hadn't really been practicing.

This set the precedent which is always easier to repeat a second time, especially with the media and it's constant reminding of the previous FAILURE (Waddle and Pearce suffered in the red top press creating a venomous fear of failure for all future shoot outs), and the publics celebration of FAILURE (pizza hut?).

Future penalty shoot outs after this were very easy to predict as losses (check out the players body language - compare this to their opponents), where players such as David Batty (who had never taken a penalty in his career before) helped fuel the media's (and that of the public's conscience) self fulfilling prophecies of penalty shoot out defeat.

But why did he (and others that weren't particularly skillful such as Gareth Southgate) take them? They volunteered, where other players of far superior ball control turned away. They were too worried by failure, driven by the culture nurtured by the media and public. (Batty and Southgate, although good players performed a role within the team, and that role wasn't clinical finishing).

England have won a penalty shoot out, against Spain at Euro 96, which was held in England (incidentally only a dubious refereeing decision kept England in the game). Buoyed by immense jingoism and support, the like of which I've never seen before or since.

Additionally until recently many of the senior management in the F.A. had failed (the archaic Taylor Report springs to mind) to embrace some of the more scientific approaches to football (managers like Arsene Wenger helped change this attitude) and the penalty shootout. See the book SOCCERNOMICS for detailed information. (how an economist would approach a penalty shoot out - and how they successfully predicted where the keeper should dive for the shootout in the Champions League final of Chelsea vs Man Utd).

I can't really comment on other countries relative success or failure in shootouts, and I don't want to mention national stereotypes, but if only everything in life was as reliable as a........


My best answer would be that German players are more mentally tough. I would imagine if you looked back and the individual shoot-outs that a large percentage of England's losses came after one or more players missed the goal entirely with a shot off-target. PK's are more of a mental trial than physical.


As a soccer fan, I'd like to believe it has something to do with national culture or identity but given the small sample set and the increasing internationalization of soccer, it probably is just random. There are some strategies and techniques that do better than others though. Long run-ups to the ball are better than short. As a goalie, standing still and guarding the middle of the net is statistically better than guessing one side and diving. Practicing shoot-outs a lot between games is better than ignoring them.

  • "standing still and guarding the middle of the net is statistically better than guessing one side and diving" -- note that as a simple matter of game theory, this can only be true if players are following a strategy that's non-optimal from the POV of each individual kick, and taking too many kicks too near the middle. But if players would rather have a kick saved than miss one, and especially since due to player nerves kicks aren't independent trials, it might make sense that players not follow a per-kick optimal strategy even if they know one. Commented Jan 23, 2015 at 9:46
  • It's also interesting that this answer ("don't guess a side") directly contradicts queeg's answer ("Shilton lost because he was short and also because he followed a non-standard strategy of not guessing a side"). Theories based on small data sets are great! In practice the player and the keeper should both follow a mixed strategy. Target different places, and guess or don't guess, in a way that's as close as you can manage to random from the POV of the opponent. Commented Jan 23, 2015 at 9:51

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