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Researchers reveal what makes PK shootouts 'unfair'
AFP, December 16th, 2010 1:59AM

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According to new research from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), penalty shootouts give an unfair psychological advantage to the team that shoots first. A study of 2,820 penalty kicks from shootouts in major national and international competitions between 1970-2008 revealed that the team that takes the first kick wins 60 percent of the time and the team that takes the second 40 percent of the time.

"Most TV channels cut to the commercial break when the coin is being tossed to decide which team takes the first penalty -- but our findings show that this could be the deciding moment after a drawn match," said LSE professor Ignacio Palacios-Huerta. "The coin gives a 20 percent advantage to the team that shoots first. The psychological pressure of 'lagging behind' clearly affects the performance of the team that kicks second.

LSE studied films of the penalty coin toss in 20 matches. In every case, except one, the winner of the toss chose to take the first penalty. The exception was Italy-Spain in the 2008 European Championships -- Italy won the coin toss but opted to go second and Spain won the shootout.

Almost all of the 240 players and coaches interviewed said they would prefer to take the first kick and 96 percent said this was to put pressure on the team kicking second. "I suspect that the heads of FIFA or UEFA are not going to like the fact that the winner of the World Cup, the European Championship or the Champions League is decided, in part, on the 60-40 flip of a coin," said Palacios-Huerta, who proposes adopting the method used in a tennis tiebreaker, in which the first player (A) takes the first serve, then the second player (B) serves twice, then the first player serves twice, and so on.

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