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Mythbusting: Are England really that crap at penalties?

Find out how the Three Lions rack up against the world's heavyweights when it comes to holding their nerve from the spot

by Josh Powell | May 25, 2014

Stuart Pearce. Gareth Southgate. David Batty. Ashley Cole. No matter how old you are, or what major international tournament you first remember, it has probably ended with an Englishman losing his bottle in emphatic style during a penalty shoot-out.

In six of the last 10 major tournaments, England have departed via a penalty shoot-out and with all eyes on Rio, the dreaded thought of spot-kicks is under the spot light again. But are the Three Lions really that bad from 12 yards? The Paddy Power Blog broke down the myth, and looked at every penalty taken in a shoot-out in the major tournaments and ranked England against 10 of the World Cup’s leading contenders. The results are not pretty.


England have the worst conversion rate, and also the worst win rate of any of the top 11 teams. On 40 occasions an Englishman has made the long walk from the half-way line to the penalty spot, and just 26 of them have come back celebrating. That means on average England have missed one in every three spot-kicks, and that goes some way to explaining why they have won just one shoot-out from eight attempts on the big stage.

Research conducted by the Science of Soccer team in 2009, indicates that of 286 penalties from the top European leagues, South America and International tournaments, 85 per cent were successful. So why do English players fall 20 per cent short? And why are the Germans so ruthlessly efficient? Unless years of growing up in tight leather shorts somehow improved their ability to strike the ball, or living in a country void of humour encouraged them to perfect their trade, it must simply be down to bottle.


In the 2013/14 season English players actually have a 10 per cent better conversion rate for their clubs. This is in no small part thanks to some expertly converted spot kicks from Steven Gerrard and Rickie Lambert. Lambert’s reliability from the spot on the south coast of England is rarer than a grammatically correct tweet from a professional footballer.

Cristiano Ronaldo has helped Portugal to a 100 per cent success rate although they have taken just seven penalties this season. The Germans unsurprisingly are bang up there once again. They have an 83 per cent success rate – the exact same as their average in major tournaments – indicating that the pressure of the main stage is as unnerving as invading lots of small European countries in the 1940s.

Whichever way you try to sugar-coat it, the stats are bleaker than Iain Dowie’s managerial CV. The Three Lions simply can’t convert penalties as successfully as the other leading players and it’s a nut Roy Hodgson is probably going to have to crack if England are to win a major tournament. The gaffer has brought in sports psychiatrist Dr Steve Peters to aid the national side’s spot-kick woes, but it might take more than a shrink for England to lift the World Cup in Rio.

If only England could come up with an elaborate array of disguises and then Rickie Lambert could take all five. It’s a long-shot though…

  • With a long history of spot-kick shame, England are unsurprisingly very popular to be knocked out on penalties again and that’s an 8/1 shot with Paddy Power here: Desktop | Mobile

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