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].