There have been a host of penalty shootouts at World Cup tournaments since they were introduced ahead of the 1978 FIFA World Cup as a tiebreaker, but which countries have had the best shootout record and what nation is right to have the fear factor about the dreaded match-decider? We look at the facts around World Cup penalty shootouts ahead of this year’s tournament in Qatar.

How Many Penalty Shootouts Have There Been in World Cup History?

There have been 30 penalty shootouts in the World Cup, with the first of those coming on 8 June 1982, when West Germany eliminated France 5-4 in a shootout to progress to the final. The game had ended 3-3, with four of those goals coming in extra time, and is best remembered for Harald Schumacher’s horrendous challenge on Frenchman Patrick Battiston. To rub salt into the French wounds, Schumacher was to be the German hero in the shootout, saving two penalties before Hrubesch scored the winning penalty.

Harald Schumacher World Cup penalty save

Four World Cup tournaments have seen as many as four penalty shootouts to decide matches, with 1990, 2006, 2014 and 2018 all producing that tally. The only World Cup without a single penalty shootout was 1978 – the first tournament following their introduction as a tiebreaker.

Argentina have been involved in the most penalty shootouts in World Cup history, with their five across four tournaments – the 1990 quarter-final and semi-final, 1998 round of 16, 2006 quarter-final and 2014 semi-final. They progressed in all of these except the 2006 quarter-final tie against Germany in Berlin.

Which Country Has the Best Record in World Cup Penalty Shootouts?

If there’s one nation you don’t want to face in a World Cup penalty shootout, it’s Germany. The Germans have won all four of their World Cup shootouts, both as West Germany and as a unified nation.

West Germany’s semi-final shootout win against France in the 1982 semi-final – the first penalty shootout in World Cup history – started their run, which was followed by shootout victories against Mexico in 1986 (quarter-final), England in 1990 (semi-final) and Argentina in 2006 (quarter-final).

Argentina lose a World Cup penalty shootout versus Germany 2006

That shootout victory in 2006 was the only one that Argentina have lost, with the South American nation winning the same number as Germany overall in the World Cup, a record four shootout victories (80% success).

Croatia are the only other nation to have been involved in more than one shootout and to have a 100% progression rate – they won against both Denmark (round of 16) and Russia (quarter-final) at the 2018 World Cup on the way to the final, where they eventually lost against the French in Moscow, Russia.

Other nations to have participated in just one World Cup penalty shootout and win it are Belgium, Bulgaria, South Korea, Paraguay, Portugal, Sweden, Ukraine and Uruguay.

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Which Country Has the Worst Record in World Cup Penalty Shootouts?

Three nations have lost as many as three penalty shootouts at World Cup finals.

England lost each of their first three at the World Cup – in 1990 in the semi-finals versus West Germany, in 1998 in the round of 16 against Argentina and in 2006 versus Portugal in the quarter-final. England finally ended their terrible shootout run with a 4-3 victory over Colombia at the 2018 World Cup in Russia in the last 16.

Italy and Spain have also both lost three of their four World Cup shootouts.

In 1994, Italy became the first team to ever lose a World Cup final via a penalty shootout following a defeat to Brazil in the tiebreaker. However, they went on to get some form of redemption in 2006 following a shootout victory over France in the final. These shootouts are the only two ever seen in World Cup finals. Italy’s other two penalty shootout defeat at the World Cup came in the 1990 semis versus Argentina and the 1998 quarter-final against hosts France.

Spain’s last two penalty shootout defeats have both come against a host nation – in the 2002 quarters versus South Korea and in the 2018 round of 16 against Russia. They lost their first ever World Cup penalty shootout against Belgium in the 1986 quarter-finals, before picking up their only shootout victory in the competition versus the Republic of Ireland the round before that defeat to South Korea in 2002.

Mexico and Romania have currently been involved in the most World Cup penalty shootouts without never winning one (two each), while other nations to only participate in a single shootout in the competition and lose are Chile, Colombia, Denmark, Ghana, Greece, Japan, Switzerland and Yugoslavia.

The only other nation to have a record of losing more penalty shootouts than they have won in World Cup history are the Netherlands (lost two, won one).

What Penalty Shootout Has Been the Longest in World Cup History?

Only two World Cup penalty shootouts have seen as many as 12 penalties taken – one of those was in the first shootout ever seen in the competition: Germany’s win over France in the 1982 semi-final.

Nine penalties were scored in that 12-penalty shootout, which still hasn’t been beaten to this day (but equalled on three occasions since).

The only other penalty shootout to see 12 penalties taken was at USA ’94, when Romania and Sweden took six each and the shootout ended in a 5-4 win for after Swedish ‘keeper Thomas Ravelli crucially saved Miodrag Belodedici to win their quarter-final tie.

Sweden Romania World Cup penalty shootout

The longest World Cup penalty shootout in terms of time came in June 1990 when the Republic of Ireland defeated Romania – David O’Leary’s famous winning penalty came after nine minutes and 12 seconds of shootout action.

What Penalty Shootout Has Been the Shortest in World Cup History?

Two World Cup penalty shootouts have seen only seven penalties taken – both are the shortest in tournament history.

In 1986, West Germany only needed to take four penalties to defeat Mexico in their quarter-final tie, as the Mexicans saw their second and third penalties saved by Harald Schumacher.

The only other World Cup penalty shootout to see as few as seven spot-kicks taken was Ukraine versus Switzerland in 2006. Switzerland lost the shootout 3-0 after a 0-0 draw after extra time – they are the only team in World Cup history to fail to score a penalty in a shootout. This was also the World Cup penalty shootout to see the fewest penalties scored, unsurprisingly (three).

Ukraine Swizerland World Cup penalty shootout

What’s the Record Number of Penalties Saved in a World Cup Penalty Shootout?

Portugal goalkeeper Ricardo saved three of England’s penalties in the shootout at World Cup 2006. The Portuguese shot-stopper saved from Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher in the 3-1 quarter-final shootout victory in Gelsenkirchen.

Danijel Subasic also saved three penalties for Croatia against Denmark in the 2018 World Cup round of 16. The Croats won the shootout 3-2 after he saved penalties from Christian Eriksen, Lasse Schöne and Nicolai Jørgensen. Subasic would later help Croatia to another penalty shootout win at the 2018 tournament, this time against Russia in the next round (quarter-final) – he saved Fedor Smolov penalty in the shootout.

Danijel Subasic World Cup penalty shootout save

Overall, Subasic saved four penalties in penalty shootouts in 2018, equalling the record saved by a goalkeeper in a single World Cup tournament, originally recorded by Argentina’s Sergio Goycochea in 1990.

Oleksandr Shovkovskiy is the only goalkeeper to not concede a penalty in a single World Cup shootout. He saved two for Ukraine against Switzerland in the 2006 World Cup round of 16 tie, also seeing Tranquillo Barnetta hit the post from his penalty kick for the Swiss in the 3-0 shootout win.

Which Players have Been Involved in the Most Penalty Shootouts?

Roberto Baggio is the only player in World Cup history to be involved in as many as three penalty shootouts.

The Italian forward is unfortunately probably best known for his miss in the 1994 World Cup final against Brazil, which decided the destination of the trophy. Sandwiching this penalty woe were successful attempts in the 1990 semi-final against Argentina and the 1998 quarter-final against France – although Italy also lost both of these penalty shootouts.

Baggio’s relationship with World Cup penalty shootouts is certainly a damaged one.

Roberto Baggio penalty miss 1994 World Cup final

Ivan Rakitić is the only player to score the decisive/winning penalty in a World Cup penalty shootout on more than one occasion. Both came at the 2018 World Cup, with Croatia’s shootout victories against fellow UEFA nation Denmark in the round of 16 and then against Russia in the quarter-finals.

Which Penalty is Most Likely to be Missed in a Penalty Shootout?

Ignoring the two occasions that a World Cup penalty shootout has reached sudden death, with 11th and 12th penalties taken, taking penalty number eight in World Cup shootouts gives you the biggest chance of being labelled the villain.

Just 60.7% of penalties taken eighth in a World Cup penalty shootout have been converted (17 of 28), just about higher than the next penalty in shootouts, with the ninth penalty taker scoring 62.5% of the time (15 of 24).

World Cup Penalty Shootout Order Success

The data suggests that all teams have at least three confident penalty takers in shootouts, with the first three penalties taken by both sides across the previous World Cup shootouts having a success rate above 73%. After that, that historical rate drops to between 64% and 65% for the fourth and fifth penalties by both nations, historically.

World Cup Penalty Shootout Team Order Success

Since 1978, World Cup penalties in normal and extra time have been converted at a rate of 79.8% – that rate is higher than the World Cup penalty shootout success ratio of 70.3%. Obviously, in regular match time, nations will have a designated penalty taker who you’d expect to convert at a higher rate than other players in the team with less experience and expertise from the spot. However, the element of ‘penalty shootout’ pressure also undoubtedly plays a part, psychologically.

Should You Take the First Penalty in a World Cup Penalty Shootout?

The penalty shootout is often referred to as a lottery, and the element of luck comes into play even before the first penalty is taken.

Teams take turns in a shootout, with the choice of who goes first decided by a coin toss. Team A goes first, then team B, then team A again and so on.

So, should you win the toss and take the first penalty, is that beneficial to your chances of winning the shootout? The data from previous World Cup tournaments isn’t really going to help us answer this one conclusively – it’s a fifty-fifty split down the middle.

Fifteen of the 30 penalty shootouts in World Cup history have been won by the team taking the first penalty, and the other 15 have been won by the nation taking the second penalty.

A weird quirk, and surely nothing more than that, is that each of the last six World Cup penalty shootouts have seen the team taking the first penalty in the shootout lose that tie. It’s important to note that three of those have seen their penalty saved by the opposition goalkeeper, however.

Of the eight occasions that a team taking the first penalty in a World Cup shootout have missed that spot-kick, only two have recovered to win – Sweden versus Romania in 1994 and Ukraine versus Switzerland in 2006.

Eleven of the last 15 penalty shootouts have been won by the team taking the first penalty in the shootout if they successfully convert that spot-kick, although that record is slightly ruined by the fact that the last three teams to do so have all been knocked out in said shootout – Costa Rica versus Netherlands in 2014, Spain vs. Russia and Colombia vs. England in 2018.

Where in the Goal Should you Shoot in a World Cup Penalty Shootout?

This is the golden question. Looking at the image below, it’s clear that most people logically try to place their penalties in the bottom corners of the goal during World Cup penalty shootouts, with 29.3% of all shootout penalties being placed in the two zones low inside each post.

World Cup Penalty Shootout Placement
Jonathan Manuel / Data Analyst

Looking at where each World Cup penalty shootout attempt has been scored, it’s again clear that most successful attempts have been to the side of the goalkeeper.

World Cup Penalty Shootout attempts scored
Jonathan Manuel / Data Analyst

But when it comes to conversion rate of World Cup penalty shootout attempts, the historic data suggests that if you hit it high into the goal then you’re onto a winner. There have been 42 World Cup penalty shootout attempts fired into the top third of the goal (on target) – none of them have been saved.

Penalties hit to the goalkeeper’s right-hand side look to be the least successful – it could be said that this makes sense, with recent studies suggesting that up to 85-90% of males across the world considering themselves to be predominantly right-handed.

World Cup Penalty Shootout success rate
Jonathan Manuel / Data Analyst

Aiming high at the goal has it obvious risks and it’s certainly the most high-risk, high-reward strategy for taking a penalty – even world class talents like Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi can’t be expected to place every penalty with this much accuracy.

Fourteen penalties have either hit the crossbar or gone over the crossbar in World Cup penalty shootouts since they were introduced – most famously Roberto Baggio’s miss for Italy against Brazil in the 1994 final.

World Cup Penalty Shootout attempts missed