Penalty kicks are performed during normal play. They are awarded when a foul normally punishable by a direct free kick is committed within the offending player's own penalty area. Similar kicks are made in a penalty shootout in some tournaments to determine which team is victorious after a drawn match; though similar in procedure, these are not penalty kicks and are governed by slightly different rules.
In practice, penalties are converted to goals more often than not, even against world class goalkeepers. This means that penalty awards are often decisive, especially in low-scoring games. Missed penalty kicks are often demoralising to players because it is an easy opportunity to score.
The referee gives the ball to a player on the non-offending team. The referee then tells instructs the goalkeeper to not come off of the goal line. While this is happening, the shooter places the ball on the penalty mark and prepares to strike the ball. The referee will then ask the goalkeeper if he/she is ready, and if so blows the whistle which lets the shooter know he may kick the ball. Then the goalkeeper will attempt to make a save on the shot. But the shooter cannot move backwards while moving towards the ball or stop when the shooter is very close to the ball at which time the goalkeeper usually already decided and moved toward one direction. If this happens and a goal is scored, then the kick is retaken. But if this happens and a goal is not scored, then the defense restarts with an indirect free kick from the penalty spot.
A two-man penalty or "tap" penalty occurs when the penalty-taker, instead of shooting to score a goal, taps the ball slightly forward and to the side so that a team-mate can run on to it. The team-mate, like all other players, must be at least ten yards from the penalty mark when the ball is kicked. This strategy depends on the element of surprise, so that the team-mate can reach the ball ahead of any defenders. The first recorded two-man penalty was taken by Rik Coppens and André Piters in the World Cup Qualifying match Belgium v Iceland on 5 June 1957. Coppens passed the ball to Piters who returned the favour, allowing the former to score. It was later made famous by Johan Cruyff in a match for AFC Ajax in 1982 against Helmond Sport.
Arsenal players Thierry Henry and Robert Pirès famously failed in an attempt at a similar penalty in 2005, during a Premier League match against Manchester City at Highbury. Pirès ran in to take the kick, attempted to pass to the onrushing Henry, but miskicked; as he had touched the ball (but barely moved it), he could not touch it again, and City defender Sylvain Distin reached the ball before Henry could.
In case of an infringement of the laws of the game during a penalty kick, most commonly entering the goal area illegally, the referee must consider both whether a goal was scored, and which team committed the offence.
|Infringement by||The ball enters the goal||The ball does NOT enter the goal|
|Attacking player||Penalty is retaken||Indirect free kick to the defending team at the place of the infringement|
|Defending player||Goal||Penalty is retaken|
|Both||Penalty is retaken||Penalty is retaken|
In the case of a player repeatedly infringing the laws during the penalty kick, the referee may caution the player for persistent infringement. Note that all offences that occur before kick are dealt with in this manner, regardless of the location of the offence.
If, after the penalty kick has been taken:
- the kicker touches the ball again (except with his hands) before it has touched another player:
- an indirect free kick is awarded to the opposing team, the kick to be taken from the place where the infringement occurred
- the kicker deliberately handles the ball before it has touched another player:
- a direct free kick is awarded to the opposing team, to be taken from the place where the infringement occurred
- the ball is touched by an outside agent (ex. dog) as it moves forward:
- the kick is retaken
- the ball rebounds into the field of play from the goalkeeper, the crossbar or the goalposts and is then touched by an outside agent (ex. dog):
- the referee stops play
- play is restarted with a dropped ball at the place where it touched the outside agent, unless it touched the outside agent inside the goal area, in which case the referee drops the ball on the goal area line parallel to the goal line at the point nearest to where the ball was located when play was stopped
"Reading" the kicker
Defending against a penalty kick is one of the most difficult tasks a goalkeeper can face. Owing to the short distance between the penalty spot and the goal, there is very little time to react to the shot. Because of this, the goalkeeper will usually start his or her dive before the ball is actually struck. In effect, the goalkeeper must act on his best prediction about where the shot will be aimed. Some keepers decide which way they will dive beforehand, thus giving themselves a good chance of diving in time. Others try to read the kicker's motion pattern. On the other side, kickers often feign and prefer a relatively slow shot in an attempt to foil the keeper. The potentially most fruitful approach, shooting high and centre, i.e. in the space that the keeper will evacuate, also carries the highest risk of shooting above the bar.
As the shooter makes his approach to the ball, the keeper has only a few seconds to "read" the shooter's motions and decide where the ball will go. If their guess is correct, this may result in a saved penalty. Helmuth Duckadam, the goalkeeper of Steaua Bucureşti, saved a record four consecutive penalties in the 1986 European Cup Final against FC Barcelona. He dived three times to the right and a fourth time to his left to save all penalties taken, securing victory for his team.
Use of knowledge of kicker's history
A goalkeeper may also rely on knowledge of the shooter's past behaviour to inform his decision. An example of this would be by former Netherlands national team goalkeeper Hans van Breukelen, who always had a box with cards with all the information about the opponents penalty specialist. Ecuadorian goalkeeper Marcelo Elizaga, after saving a penalty from Carlos Tevez in a match between their national teams, revealed that he had studied some penalty kicks from Tevez and suspected he was going to shoot to the goalkeeper left side. Two other examples occurred during the 2006 FIFA World Cup:
2. The quarter-final match between Argentina and Germany also came down to penalties, and German goalkeeper Jens Lehmann was seen looking at a piece of paper kept in his sock before each Argentinian player would come forward for a penalty kick. It is presumed that information on each kicker's "habits" were written on this paper. Lehmann saved 2 of the 4 penalties taken.
This approach may not always be successful; the player may intentionally switch from his favoured spot after witnessing the goalkeeper obtaining knowledge of his kicks. Most times, especially in amateur football, the goalkeeper is often forced to guess. A 2011 study published in the journal Psychological Science found goalkeepers dove to the right 71% of the time when their team was losing, but only 48% when ahead and 49% when tied, a phenomenon believed to be related to certain right-preferring behaviour in social mammals.
The goalkeeper also may try to distract the penalty taker, as the expectation is on the penalty taker to succeed, hence more pressure on the penalty taker, making him more vulnerable to mistakes. For example, in the 2008 UEFA Champions League Final between Manchester United and Chelsea, United goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar pointed to his left side when Nicolas Anelka stepped up to take a shot in the penalty shoot out. This was because all of Chelsea's penalties went to the left. Anelka's shot instead went to Van der Sar's right, which was saved. Liverpool goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar used a famous method of distracting the players called the "spaghetti legs" trick to help his club defeat Roma to win the 1984 European Cup. This tactic was emulated in the 2005 UEFA Champions League Final, which Liverpool also won, by Liverpool's goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek, helping his team defeat AC Milan.
An illegal method of saving penalties is for the goalkeeper to make a quick and short jump forward just before the penalty taker connects with the ball. This not only shuts down the angle of the shot, but also distracts the penalty taker. The method was used by Brazilian goalkeeper Taffarel. FIFA was less strict on the rule during that time. In more recent times, FIFA has advised all referees to strictly obey the rule book.
Similarly, a goalkeeper may also attempt to delay a penalty by cleaning his boots, asking the referee to see if the ball is placed properly and other delaying tactics. This method builds more pressure on the penalty taker, but the goalkeeper may risk punishments, most likely a yellow card.
Even if the keeper does manage to block the shot, the ball may rebound back to the shooter or one of his team-mates for another shot, with the keeper often in poor position to make a second save. This makes saving penalty kicks astonishingly difficult. This is not a concern in penalty shoot-outs, where just a single shot is permitted.
These factors would give one the impression that penalty kicks are scored almost 100% of the time. Missed penalty kicks, however, are not uncommon despite the simple circumstances. For instance, of the 78 penalty kicks taken during the 2005–06 English Premier League season, 57 resulted in a goal, meaning almost 30% of the penalties were unsuccessful. 
A German professor who has been studying penalty statistics in the German Bundesliga for 16 years found that 76% of all the penalties during those 16 years went in, and 99% of the shots in the higher half of the goal went in, although the higher half of the goal is generally a more risky target to aim at. During his career, Italian striker Roberto Baggio had two occurrences where his shot hit the upper bar, bounced downwards, rebounded off the keeper and passed the goal line for a goal.
The early origin of the penalty kick probably lies in rugby football, as shown in early match reports, for example in 1888: "Dewsbury was awarded a penalty kick in front of the goal" The concept of a penalty goal for fouls within 2 yards (1.8 m) of the goal was suggested at a Sheffield FA meeting in 1879. The invention of the penalty kick is also credited to the goalkeeper and businessman William McCrum in 1890 in Milford, County Armagh, Ireland.
Influencing factors were for the Scottish Football Association on 20 December 1890 in the Scottish Cup quarter-final between East Stirlingshire 1 and Heart of Midlothian 3 when Jimmy Adams  fisted the ball out from under the bar. and for the FA on 14 February 1891 a blatant goal-line handball by a Notts County player in the FA Cup quarter-final against Stoke City, which came into effect in the 1891–92 season. The world's first penalty kick was awarded to Airdrieonians in 1891 at Broomfield Park. The first penalty kick in the Football League was awarded to Wolverhampton Wanderers in their game against Accrington at Molineux Stadium on 14 September 1891. The penalty was taken and scored by "Billy" Heath as Wolves went on to win the game 5–0.
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- Under Pressure, Soccer Goalies Tend To Dive Right, 2 August 2011, retrieved 2011-09-03
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- Murphy, Brendan (2007). From Sheffield with Love. Sports Book Limited. p. 107. ISBN 978-1-899807-56-7.
- Daily Telegraph Monday 9 April 2007 p5 (see article on Telegraph online)
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- "Happened on this day – 14 September". BBC News. 14 September 2002. Retrieved 2010-05-22.