The Russian World Cup is on. The fever is gripping football fans all over. Soon the knock out stages will commence with their nail biting experience. At the heart of the knock stages are penalty shoot-outs as winners must emerge.
But are penalty shoot-outs fair. They appeared to be, until the 2010 publication of a study by Professor Ignacio Palacios-Huerta of London School of Economics (LSE) and Jose Apesteguia, Associate Professor at Pompeu Fabra University, Spain featured on LSE website back then.
The study was based on 2,820 penalty shoot-outs in major national and international competitions between 1970-2008. The Professors found that the team that take the first kick wins 60% of the time and the team that takes the second 40% of the time. Therefore, the famous coin toss which offers a team the opportunity to take the first shot actually gives a 20 per cent advantage to that team.
“The psychological pressure of “lagging behind” clearly affects the performance of the team that kicks second” said the researchers”
To drive the point home, in 20 films studied by the Professors, all winners of coin toss, except one, chose to take the first shot in penalty shoot-outs, meaning that they “instinctively understood psychological advantage of taking the first penalty.
The researchers also interviewed 240 players and coaches – both professional and amateur – and almost all said they would prefer to take the first kick and 96 per cent said that this was to put pressure on the team kicking second.
Said the researchers, “heads of FIFA or UEFA are not going to like the fact that the winner of the World Cup, the European Cup or the Champions League is decided, in part, on the 60-40 flip of a coin. They would surely prefer the coin and the order that penalty kicks are taken in to be perfectly neutral”.
To reduce the psychological pressure and make things fair, assuming teams A and B, the researchers suggested that penalty shoot-outs should be in this pattern:
ABBAABBAAB, and so on. That is, team A takes the first shot while team B takes the next two shots and then team A takes two shots until shots are exhausted or winners emerges as the case may be.
This pattern greatly reduces the unfair “first mover” advantage since the second team is not always trying to play “catch up” and the problem of leading or lagging would be compensated for.