A penalty is awarded. Save it and the goalkeeper is a hero, applauded by his fans and mobbed by his teammates. Concede? Well, the odds were never in his favour anyway.
As Tottenham’s Brad Friedel has argued, the scenario really is “a no-lose” situation for the ‘keeper with all of the pressure upon the taker “who is supposed to score.”
But this shouldn’t give goalkeepers a free pass to simply pick a direction to dive and hope for the best.
With the extensive level of statistics available in modern football, coaching staff can compile information on opposing penalty takers to provide to their ‘keepers in the event of a spot kick being awarded.
Famously at the 2006 World Cup, Jens Lehmann read the notes of his goalkeeping coach Andy Kopke in between kicks as Germany went on to defeat Argentina in the shoot out.
But even with this information, the days of goalkeepers diving before the ball is struck should be consigned to the past.
There is an infuriating number of penalties which are scored either straight down the middle or slightly off centre. By committing early as the result of coaching guidance or just guesswork, goalkeepers are guilty of allowing these weak efforts to score. And because of the scenario, they will never be subject to any criticism for it.
Bayern Munich’s Manuel Neuer demonstrated the approach that goalkeepers should take with his save from Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil in the recent Champions League encounter. Standing up tall, Neuer made his international colleague’s attempts to commit him to a dive look foolish and as a result, he was able to make the save from a poorly struck effort.
Premier League stars such as Eden Hazard and the recently departed Dimitar Berbatov regularly profit from the tactic which Ozil tried but failed to replicate. Displaying an impressive level of composure, they simply wait for the goalkeeper to commit to a side in the run up before simply slotting it home in the other direction.
By diving early, the goalkeepers are falsely assuming that the strike is always going to hit one of the corners. In reality, how many penalties are ever struck that perfectly?
And in the event that they are, is an early dive really going to make the save? When penalty takers such as Steven Gerrard hit the corners with such accuracy and power, there is nothing a goalkeeper can realistically do to prevent the goal.
In this event, the ‘keepers should concede that they are unlikely to make the stop. Rather than attempt to prevent the best, goalkeepers should stand tall and pick off the worst.
Of course, this tactic relies on anticipation and a good reaction speed.
But when so many penalties are struck slightly to either side or ‘dinked’ straight down the middle, goalkeepers should fancy their chances to save the weaker efforts more often than not.
As has already been mentioned, the pressure in this scenario is always upon the taker to deliver. Make him have to beat you rather than beating yourselves by committing too early.
There are obviously other pointers that goalkeepers should observe to help them make the save. Factors such as the taker’s stance, his approach and his eyes can often reveal his intentions.
Tactics can also be employed to distract the penalty taker and affect the quality of his strike. In the 2008 Champions League Final, Manchester United’s Edwin Van Der Sar pointed to his left as Nicolas Anelka approached the area. The Frenchman subsequently went right and the penalty was saved, handing the Red Devils the trophy.
By standing tall and waiting for the kick, goalkeepers are sacrificing their already minimal chances of saving the best efforts. But in this trade off their chances of saving the weaker and less accurate strikes, of which there are more of, are enhanced massively.
The pressure in a penalty situation is never placed upon the goalkeeper. By reacting to the kick and not diving beforehand, the strain for the taker is even greater. They know that anything other than a confident strike into the corners should be saved.