The game theory of penalty kicks

David Goldenberg says:

I heard from In Front Sports & Media how interested you are in the World Cup, so I thought I'd share a recent interview Gelf did with an economist at Brown who studies risk and reward on the soccer field.

There are several cool things about his research--most recently on how game theory applies to penalty kicks--but I thout this weird nugget on info he shared might be most interesting to BB readers.

Gelf Magazine: Sports Jones suggested in a 1998 article on this topic that the reason more players don't shoot to the center on PKs is because it would be embarrassing to get such a kick blocked. Do you agree?

Ignacio Palacios-Huerta: No, I do not. One can readily make exactly the opposite argument, namely that it is a great honor to score shooting to the middle, and not a big deal to have it stopped (rather than an embarrassment to have it stopped and not a big deal to score).

In fact, I think that in some sense it is a great honor. The most famous penalty shot (and I think the first one) to the middle was taken by Panenka in 1976 (YouTube). It is so famous that it has a name: when a penalty is shot softly to middle, say, 1 meter or 1.5 meters above the ground (like the second Ukrainian kicker did on Monday in the penalty shoot-out against Switzerland), it is said that the penalty was shot a la Panenka. [Editor's note: You can see the PK here on YouTube (it starts at the one-minute mark; the Supersport announcer describes the kick as "cheeky").]) Well, Panenka shot it like this in the last and decisive kick of the European final Germany-Czechoslovakia in 1976, and got totally famous for it. It is very risky but the fame payoffs is [great].

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