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A player preparing to take a penalty
A penalty kick (or penalty) is a type of free kick in association football, taken from twelve yards (approximately eleven metres) out from goal and with only the goalkeeper of the defending team between the penalty taker and the goal.

Penalty kicks are performed during normal play. Similar kicks are made in a penalty shootout in some tournaments to determine who progresses after a drawn match; though similar in procedure, these are technically not penalty kicks and are governed by slightly different rules.

In practice, penalties are converted to goals more often than not, even against world class goalkeepers. This means that penalty awards are often decisive, especially in low-scoring games.


A penalty kick may be awarded when a defending player commits a foul punishable by a direct free kick against an opponent or a handball, within their own penalty area (commonly known as "the box" or "18 yard box"). Note that it is the location of the offence — and not the position of the ball — that defines whether a foul is punishable by a penalty kick or direct free kick, provided the ball is in play.

The referee signals the award of a penalty kick by blowing the whistle and pointing to the penalty spot.


The penalty kick is taken from the penalty mark, which is a midline spot from the goal. The penalty kick taker (who does not have to be the player who was fouled) must be clearly identified to the referee.

All players other than the defending goalkeeper and the penalty taker must be outside the penalty area, behind the penalty mark, and at least ten yards (9.15 m) from the ball (i.e. outside the penalty arc) until the ball is kicked. The goalkeeper must remain between the goalposts on the goal-line facing the ball until the ball is kicked, but may move from side to side along the goal-line. If the goalkeeper moves forward before the ball is kicked, then the penalty must be kicked again if a goal is not scored.

After the referee blows his whistle, which is the signal for the kick to be taken, the kicker must kick the ball in a forward direction (not necessarily at the goal, though this is almost always the case). The ball must be kicked after a run-up by the taker, who may slow his run but may not completely stop once the run-up has begun. If the taker scores after violating this rule, the kick must be re-taken.

The ball is in play once it has been kicked and moved, and at this point in time other players may enter the penalty area and play continues as normal. Most often a goal has already been scored, the ball has been kicked behind the goal line, or the keeper has gained possession of the ball. Sometimes, however, the ball will rebound from the saving keeper or the woodwork; if this happens, any goal that may follow does not count as one scored from penalty, even if a goal is immediately scored from the rebound.

The penalty kick is a form of direct free kick, meaning that a goal may be scored directly from it. If a goal is not scored, play continues as usual. As with all free kicks, the kicker may not play the ball a second time until it has been touched by another player even if the ball rebounds from the posts. However, a penalty kick is unusual in that, unlike general play, external interference directly after the kick has been taken may result in the kick being retaken, rather than the usual dropped-ball.

An own goal may not be scored by the kicking team, although this would be almost impossible since the ball has to be kicked in a forward direction to be a valid penalty kick. If the ball were to wind up in the kicking team's goal (for example, if the kick were to ricochet off the defending team's goalpost, travel the length of the pitch, and go into the opposite goal), a corner kick would be awarded to the defending team. An own goal can result off a penalty if the defending goalkeeper (or another member of the defending side) were to deflect a stopped or errant shot into the defending team's goal.


Infringements of the penalty kick law by either team are dealt with using an advantage concept.

  • For infringements by the defending team, before the kick is taken, should a goal be scored it stands, otherwise the kick is retaken.
  • For infringements by the kicking team, should a goal be scored the kick is retaken, otherwise an indirect free kick is awarded against his side where the infringement occurred.
  • For infringements by both teams, the kick is retaken.
  • If the kicker plays the ball twice (including following up a rebound off the goalpost not touched by the goalkeeper), an indirect free kick is awarded against his side, from where the offence occurred as is usual for free kicks (Subject to Law 8)

The referee may also caution (yellow card) players for infringements of the penalty kick law, e.g. repeated encroaching into the penalty area. Note that in practice, most minor penalty kick infringements are not penalised.

Note that all offences before kick are dealt with in this manner. For example if a defender impedes the progress of an opponent (either towards or away from the penalty area) before the kick is taken (even if the offence is not in the penalty area) then should the kicker not score, the kick will be retaken. Other offences by either the defending or attacking team before the kick regardless of their nature are dealt with subject to the four main requirements above.

Strategy to save a penalty

A penalty being scored.
against a penalty kick is one of the most difficult tasks a goalkeeper can face. Due to the short distance between the penalty spot and the goal, there is very little time to react to the shot to try to make the save. 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 keepers decide which way they will dive beforehand, thus giving themselves a good chance of diving correctly. Others try to read the kicker's motion pattern. Kickers often feign and prefer a relatively slow shot on the other side in an attempt to foil the keeper. The potentially most fruitful approach, shooting high and center, i.e. in the space that the keeper will evacuate, also carries the highest risk of shooting above the post.

As the shooter makes their approach to the ball, the keeper has only a few seconds to "read" the shooter's motions and decide where the ball will go. If their guess is correct, this may result in a saved penalty. Helmuth Duckadam, the goalkeeper of Steaua Bucharest saved a record 4 consecutive penalties in the European Cup final of 1986, against FC Barcelona. He dived 3 times to the right and a 4th time to his left to save all penalties taken and securing victory for his team.

A goalkeeper may also rely on knowledge of the shooter's past behavior to inform his decision. An example of this would be by Portugal national team goalkeeper Ricardo in a match against England in the 2006 World Cup, where he saved 4 penalties and came close to saving a fifth. The match between Argentina and Germany also came down to penalties and 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. This approach may not always be successful. Most times, especially in amateur football, the goalkeeper is often forced to guess. All things considered, a penalty shot is as much, if not more a mental contest as a match of physical skills.

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 Champions League Final between Manchester United and Chelsea, Edwin Van der Sar pointed to his left side when Nicholas 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.

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 shuts down the angle of the shot, also distracts the penalty taker. The method was used by Brazilian goalkeeper 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.

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 may risk punishment from referee for time wasting, most likely a yellow card. This method builds more pressure on the penalty taker, but the goalkeeper may risk punishments.

Even if the keeper does manage to block the shot, the ball may rebound back to the shooter or one of his teammates for another shot, with the keeper often in poor position to make a second save. This makes saving penalty kicks astonishingly difficult, because if the keeper has managed to block the penalty, it will very often rebound to an area near to the penalty taker, who will have an easier shot than the penalty itself (because they are most likely closer to the goal, and the goalkeeper is most likely in a position where he will not be able to make another save) This is not a concern in penalty shoot-outs, where just a single shot is permitted.

These factors would give one the impression that penalty kicks are scored almost 100% of the time. However, missed penalty kicks are not uncommon despite the simple circumstances. For instance, of 78 penalty kicks taken during FA Premier League 2005-06 season, 57 resulted in a goal, meaning almost 30% of the penalties were unsuccessful. [53925]

A German professor who has been studying penalty statistics in the German Bundesliga for 16 years found that 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 , although the higher half of the goal is generally a more risky target to aim at. During his career Roberto Baggio had two occurrences where his shot hit the upper bar, bounced downwards, rebound off the keeper and past the goal line for a goal.


The early origin of the penalty kick probably lies in Rugby football, as shown in early match reports, for example in 1888: "Dewsbury was awarded a penalty kick in front of the goal"The concept of a penalty goal for fouls within of the goal was suggested at a Sheffield FA meeting in 1879.The invention of the penalty kick is also credited to the goalkeeper and businessman William McCrum in 1890 in Milford, County Armagh, Northern Irelandmarker. The Irish Football Association presented the idea to the International Football Association Board and finally after much debate, and after a blatant goal-line handball by a Notts County player in the FA Cup Quarter-Final against Stoke the board approved the idea on 2 June 1891. A similar incident in Scotland also contributed to the call for the penalty kick, which came into effect in the 1891-92 season. The first ever penalty kick was awarded to Wolverhampton Wanderers in their game against Accrington at Molineux Stadiummarker on 14 September 1891. The penalty was taken and scored by John Heath as Wolves went on to win the game 5-0.


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