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Soccer Needs Different Shootout Format: Study
December 18, 2010

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How much is soccer like tennis? If a couple of researchers have their proposal approved, the similarities will include more than the fact that both sports are played with a ball on a space enclosed by lines.

A professor from the U.K. and a professor from Spain have released results of a study that asserts that the penalty shootout that ends a game of soccer in which both teams are still tied after a full game and extra time is heavily in favor of the team that has first shot. These two professors have suggested replacing the first-team-then-second-team method with the one used in a tennis match tie-break: one player serves for one point, then the players alternate serving for two points, and the winner is the first to get to 7 points. The proposal &#151; put forward by London School of Economics and Political Science Professor Ignacio Palacios-Huerta and Jose Apesteguia, an associate professor at Barcelona's Pompeu Fabra University, would follow that pattern until each team had taken its five shots or one team had gone ahead by two points.

The shootout order in a game of soccer is decided by a coin toss. In nearly every instance, the team that wins the coin toss chooses to shoot first. Of all of the shootouts examined in the study, only team won the coin toss and chose to shoot second. That was Italy in the 2008 European Championships, and Italy lost, to Spain.

The two professors studied a total of 2,820 kicks from shootouts all over the world from 1970 through 2008. The results show that the team that chose to shoot first won 60 percent of time.
The professors also put together interviews of 240 soccer players and coaches, from both the professional and the amateur ranks, and the answers were overwhelmingly in favor of shooting first, primarily because of the psychological pressure on the team shooting second.

The study is in the American Economic Review. No word yet from the international soccer community.

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