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Wednesday, 7 June, 2000, 18:06 GMT 19:06 UK
Goalkeepers should read striker's hips

Goalkeepers stand more chance of saving a penalty if they focus on the kicker's hips as he shapes up to shoot, say researchers who have analysed penalty-saving strategies.

The team, from Liverpool John Moores University, found the orientation of the striker's hips, just before he hits the ball, betrays the direction of the shot.

Armed with this information, the keeper could move to save a shot in the half second it takes to reach the goal line.

David Batty
England have suffered frequently at penalty shoot-outs
The advice could mean the difference between success and failure in penalty shoot-outs which are likely to decide many games during the Euro 2000 championships.

Read my hips

Mark Williams, head of science and football at the university, told New Scientist magazine: "If the taker's hips are square-on to the goalkeeper in a right-footed kicker, the penalty tends to go to the right-hand side of the keeper.

"If his hips are more 'open', or angled away from the goalkeeper, the kick tends to go to the left of the keeper."

This observation is remarkably similar to an explanation given recently by former Arsenal and Scotland goalkeeper Bob Wilson.

He said: "If a right-footed player approaches the ball fairly centrally, it's almost certain he will hook it to your right.

"If he has a wide angle, like a rugby player, it's hard to turn the body enough to turn it to your right, so there's a good chance it's going to your left."

But Wilson warns there are plenty of good players who can disguise these movements to some extent by adjusting their ankle at the last moment.

Split-second timing

Dr Williams investigated saving strategies by showing semi-professional goalkeepers life-sized video footage of penalty takers approaching and striking penalties, filmed from the point of view of a goalkeeper standing at the centre of the goal.

He stopped the film four times: 120 milliseconds before the kick, 40 milliseconds before, at the point of impact, and 40 milliseconds afterwards.

Viewing the freeze frame taken 120 milliseconds before impact, 50% of the keepers guessed correctly. The success rate rose to 62%, 40 milliseconds before, and 82% at impact.

Penalties in English Premier League 1999-2000
Awarded - 85
Scored - 65 (76%)
Saved - 16 (19%)
Missed - 4 (5%)
Best penalty saver: Mark Schwarzer (Middlesbrough) 100%
Source: Carling Opta
In last year's English premier league, just 19% of penalties were saved.

Questionnaires to the keepers about what they look out for revealed the key importance of the hips and other cues.

"The angle of the run-up, the orientation of the non-kicking foot, the orientation of the lower leg and the lean of the trunk were all important," says Dr Williams.

Fancy footwork

Another team, this time in Canada, has been researching the same question. Ian Franks and Todd Harvey, at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, favours the orientation of the non-kicking foot as the most informative cue.

They analysed 138 penalties in World Cup competitions between 1982 and 1994, they found that in 80% of the kicks, the non-kicking foot pointed to where the ball would go.

Dr Williams agrees the non-kicking foot is a good predictor, but says it is difficult for goalkeepers to see it.

"The position of the foot is very difficult to discriminate from the ground," he says.

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