Keepers hold all the cards as shootouts take centre-stage at Euros

Dreaded by some, loved by others, the advent of the knockout rounds at Euro 2024 brings penalty shootouts into sharp focus and offers goalkeepers an opportunity to become heroes, with very little obvious downside.

The net-minders of the 16 remaining teams will have spent much of this week poring over videos and statistics in preparation for a possible high-stakes spot-kick duel, but unless they actually take – and miss – a penalty themselves, there is little chance of them becoming the villain.

“I focus on the match and then I think about who the penalty takers might be in regulation play over the 90 minutes – if we do go to a shootout, then our goalkeeping coach has all of the information that he’ll provide to me at the right time,” Switzerland keeper Yann Sommer told reporters.

Sommer was speaking ahead of his side’s last-16 clash with Italy, who have been involved in seven shootouts at the Euros.

England's Marcus Rashford reacts after failing to score a penalty during a shootout at the end of the Euro 2020 football championship final.

One truism often shared in the goalkeeping community is that a keeper cannot lose a shootout, they can only win it, and it is a statement former Sweden goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl identifies with.

“I absolutely agree, no-one expects you to save a penalty, and when you do save one, it gives such a huge energy boost to your team,” she told Reuters.

Lindahl, who was capped 189 times for Sweden, has experienced both the highs and the lows of shootouts, saving two shots to beat hosts Brazil in the semi-finals at the 2016 Olympics, but losing the final of the Tokyo Games to Canada on penalties.

Though both resulted in her winning Olympic silver medals, only one is remembered fondly.

Video and data

The 41-year-old said the advent of video and data had changed the game when it comes to penalty shootouts, and that she tried to learn as much as she could about every penalty-taker, even those that took them during normal time.

England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford stops Colombia's Carlos Bacca's kick in a penalty shootout.

“I tried everything when it came to penalties – I was pretty good at saving them, but I found it difficult to read the shooters from the angle of their run up or their hips, or how they placed their standing leg,” Lindahl explained.

“What worked best was statistics and watching their previous efforts – it was a bit difficult if the taker changed sides a lot, and some technical players can change their mind at the last second, depending on what the goalkeeper does,” she added.

Switzerland’s Sommer takes a different view, as remembering the intricacies of all the penalty-takers he might face would be too much information.

Italy players react during their Euro 2016 quarter-final penalty shootout defeat to Germany

“I think it’s important to prepare for the game itself, as opposed to the lottery of penalties, but we know that there could be a match which goes to a penalty shootout. There’s no doubt about that,” he said.

Lindahl’s final advice to goalkeepers is to trust themselves and embrace the chance to be the hero.

“If I don’t know anything about them, I think right foot, to the right, in the middle, and left foot, to the left, in the middle – and don’t dive too early,” she said.

– Reuters

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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