Don't blame goalkeepers for England's penalty curse – say German scientists


The Three Lions have suffered several high profile penalty shootout heartbreaks over recent years that have potentially denied them a first major tournament win since the historic 1966 World Cup. These include defeat to West Germany in the 1990 World Cup, the loss to Germany at Euro 96 at Wembley Stadium and most recently, defeat to Italy at Euro 2020 last summer at the same stadium. Researchers from Germany studied whether a goalkeeper’s nationality influenced their success rate against penalties.

They analysed a sample of 2,379 penalties taken at the World Cup and Euros, in the Champions League and at Europa League matches, with 629 goalkeepers facing a strike from the penalty spot.

But the scientists found that, statistically, male goalies from England perform just as well as those from other nations.

The researchers concluded other factors influenced under-par performances, including the weight of expectation on the squad – something that has strongly been associated with the England football team over recent years.

They also found no major differences based on country of origin when comparing the success rates of goalkeepers from different nations.

Professor Daniel Memmert, from the Deutsche Sporthochschule Köln (German Sport University Cologne), concluded: “English goalkeepers are not responsible for England’s poor performance in penalty shoot-outs in the past, as they perform just as well as goalkeepers from other nations.”

Michel Brinkschulte, the study’s lead author from the same institute in Germany, said the reasons for heartbreak suffered in penalty shootouts “most likely lie in a number of factors – including the enormous external pressure when it comes to this decisive moment at the end of an important match, the expectations of their own fans and the expected negative media coverage if success is not achieved”.

This research follows a recent one from the same team who concluded England’s penalty takers are no worse from the spot than players from other nations.

In the most recent findings, the average success rate across the sample was 22.23 percent – meaning nearly a quarter of penalties are saved by the goalkeeper.

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Dr Brinkschulte, Professor Memmert and colleagues Philip Furley and Max Klemp suggested in their study that an effect known as “stereotype threat” can have a huge impact on the problem that has plagued the England team for several years.

In their scientific paper, the researchers wrote: “We see it as theoretically possible that the continued existence of the stereotype of the ‘English goalkeeper problem’ could potentially have negative consequences.

“As the mere knowledge about this stereotype might contribute to English goalkeepers under-performing (when facing penalties or during matches in general) in the sense of a self-fulfilling prophecy.”


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