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Penalty kicks are performed during normal play. They are awarded when a player commits a foul inside their 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.
A penalty kick may be awarded when a defending player is within the penalty area (commonly known as "the box" or "18-yard box") and commits one of the ten offences for which a direct free kick is awarded. Note that it is the location of the offence, and not the position of the ball, that defines whether a foul is punishable by a penalty kick or direct free kick.
The referee signals the award of a penalty kick by blowing the whistle and pointing to the penalty mark.
The penalty kick is taken from the penalty mark. The penalty kick taker (who does not have to be the player who was fouled) must be clearly identified to the referee and goalkeeper.
All players other than the defending goalkeeper and the kicker must be located:
- inside the field of play,
- outside the penalty area and arc,
- behind the penalty mark,
- at least ten yards (9.15 m) from the penalty mark
The penalty arc is used to enforce the 10 yard requirement.
After the players have taken positions, the referee signals for the kick to be taken. The ball is in play once it has been kicked and moves forward. At this point other players from either team may enter the penalty area and arc, after which play continues as normal. Sometimes, the ball will rebound from the keeper or the goalpost/crossbar, in which case any goal scored thereafter does not count as a penalty kick goal. The penalty kicker must not play the ball again until it has touched another player. (The kicker may play the ball a second time if the ball rebounds off the keeper, not if the ball rebounds directly off the goal frame without having touched another player.)
The penalty kick is a form of direct free kick, meaning that a goal may be scored directly from it. If a goal is not scored, play continues as usual.
As in other restarts, an own goal may not be scored by the kicking team directly from the penalty spot; if the ball were to rebound off the goalpost, travel the length of the field, and enter the kicker's goal (an extremely unlikely scenario), a corner kick would be awarded. However, if the ball touched another player before entering the goal the goal would stand.
Tap penalty 
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 infrindgement|
|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
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 center, 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.
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. Another example is Portugal national team goalkeeper Ricardo in a match against England in the 2006 FIFA World Cup, where he saved three penalties. In another example, Ecuadorian goalkeeper Marcelo Elizaga, after saving a penalty from Carlos Tévez in a match between their national teams, revealed that he had studied some penalty kicks from Tévez and suspected he was going to shoot to the goalkeeper left side. The match between Argentina and Germany also came down to penalties, and 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. 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.
A penalty can also be mistakenly awarded by the referee where a foul is committed outside the area and the referee makes an error of judgement, or inside the area, where the offensive player manages to trick the referee into thinking the offence occurred where in fact there was none. The referee's decision is final according to the laws of the game and so the result cannot be overturned at a later time. Some players practice different ways to gain competitive advantage as a result of this rule, leading to much controversy.
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, Northern Ireland. The Irish Football Association presented the idea to the International Football Association Board and finally after much debate, and after a blatant goal-line handball by a Notts County player in the FA Cup quarter-final against Stoke City, the board approved the idea on 2 June 1891. A similar incident in Scotland in a match between Airdrieonians and Heart of Midlothian also contributed to the call for the penalty kick, 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.
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- "Happened on this day – 14 September". BBC News. 14 September 2002. Retrieved 2010-05-22.