BTo this day, this is almost 25 years ago. A Wednesday night at Wembley Stadium in London: As the semi-finals of the European Football Championship must be decided by a penalty kick, 75,900 spectators and millions of people on the screen held their breath. The top four shooters from both sides hit the goal. Then Gareth Southgate ran-and failed at the German goalkeeper. Soon after, Andy met Mueller and made football history.
Tomorrow, Tuesday, it may be at Wembley again. This time England and Germany met in the round of 16. If no decision is made after 90 minutes plus overtime, the penalty kick must be re-decided. Who wins the thriller first is luck and chance. At least so far, spectators, players and coaches think so. Even researchers cannot see any clear pattern in hundreds of penalty shoot-outs. For a long time, the team that was allowed to start as the first shooter had the advantage. The argument behind: Whoever hits the ball first puts extra pressure on the opponent, so that he trembles more than before—and then shoots. However, economists’ assessment refutes this argument. Therefore, the first shot has no advantage; in other sports where there are also “gun fights”, the first shot has even proved to be a disadvantage.
Courage is a good consultant
Recently, three researchers led by behavioral economist Matthias Sutter from Bonn took an important step forward. The director of the Max Planck Institute for Collective Commodities and his co-authors scrutinized nearly 100 penalty shoot-outs in world and European championships and top European competitions. Economists analyze neither the player’s shooting skills nor the player’s market value, but what happened before the first shot. The referee then tossed a coin with the captains of the two teams present. The winning captain can decide whether his team will start or let the opponent go first.
The first important finding: The victorious captain only chooses the option of the first shot every two times. Players don’t seem to believe that this is a more promising strategy. The new numbers seem to justify this: if the captain chooses to shoot for the first time, the team will win about six times in ten penalty shoot-outs.
However, after careful inspection, it is also hopeful to let the opponent go first. If the captain chooses the second shot, the probability of his team winning exceeds 60%. When the researchers evaluated only the most important games, winning a coin toss actually increased the subsequent probability of victory to two-thirds—regardless of which option the captain chose.
The coin toss has been decided
Researchers explain this difference by saying that the winner of the election has a strategic advantage. For example, if you think your goalkeeper is stronger than your opponent’s goalkeeper, it might make sense not to shoot first. In fact, they found in the data that the goalkeeper who was deliberately sent to the goal first resolved more than 16% of penalties. On the other hand, the opponent’s goalkeeper successfully walked out of the gate in less than 10% of the cases. “So if the captain decides to take a second shot and let his goalkeeper serve first, then the goalkeeper will play a major role and lead his team to victory more often,” the researchers concluded in their work. The work was published in Games magazine in the spring. And economic behavior publishing.
On the other hand, if the captains believe in the nerves of the shooter more than the goalkeeper, it can obviously increase the probability of winning first and directly increase the pressure on the opponent. The result of the penalty shootout is actually related to luck and chance-just different from what was previously thought. However, at Wembley Stadium 25 years ago, coin tossing didn’t work at all. The current England coach Gareth Southgate’s mistake must have other reasons: the coin toss was only introduced in 2003.