The Reluctant Hero
Chilean defender hates penalties but has 100 per cent record
This is the time of year when clubs start thinking about penalty shoot-outs. With Cup competitions entering knock-out phases and play-offs on the horizon, now is the time to start focusing on shoot-out strategy and purposeful practise.
The last penalty shoot-out in the Champions League (not including the qualifiers) was in the 2016 final. That’s nearly five years I’ve been waiting! Luckily, shoot-out season is already underway in South America – and last week, the Copa Libertadores Femenina provided a cracker at the semi-final stage.
Photo: Javiera Mera
Universidad de Chile (known as U) drew 0-0 against Brazilian side Ferroviaria, only after U’s Yessenia Lopez missed the target with a first-half penalty. She bravely stepped up again in the shoot-out – and scored.
Ferroviaria won the penalty shoot-out 7-6, after nine players from each side took penalties. It was a brilliant shoot-out that started dramatically, as penalty three was struck so well that it broke the stanchion post (the post that goes from the crossbar to the back of the net). After much toing-and-froing, the referee decided to switch ends mid-shoot-out. Probably just as well it was in an empty stadium. The full shoot-out is here:
U had the chance to progress but missed the penalty to go through. The most memorable penalty was one that did go in. Carla Guerrero, U’s centre-back, stepped up with her team 4-3 down and, GK-Independent, slammed the ball into the top corner on her non-natural side. You can see the penalty here:
Guerrero is not a regular penalty-taker, but has taken, and scored, two other penalties in shoot-outs before. Her last, for Colo Colo in the Copa Libertadores final back in 2017, went in exactly the same spot; top corner, non-natural side. Check out where the ball is in the picture below - unstoppable!
My friend Carolina Silva, who told me about this shoot-out, interviewed Guerrero after the game for her newspaper, Las Ultimas Noticias. This is what Guerrero said:
“I am not a player who normally takes penalties, but in these moments, I have to assume responsibilities and I was one of the chosen ones. I don't like to take penalties, I just try to avoid it if I can. I look calm, but I'm very nervous. I chose the [non-natural] side, but I wasn’t aiming so high in the goal. I hit the ball low and it rose up. I couldn’t believe where it ended up! It was very nerve-wracking.”
Guerrero, is nicknamed La Jefa, The Chief. She is seen as the team’s most important player, a true leader, and was one of four players nominated for the Copa Libertadores Femenina Player of the Tournament. U built their run to the semi-final on their defence; only conceding one goal in the three matches that Guerrero played. The one game U lost - a 4-1 group-stage defeat to Ferroviaria - was the match that Guerrero did not start.
“When she retires, or perhaps before, Chileans who come next, and not only the Chileans, will try to score penalties and fight for each ball like Carla Guerrero,” wrote columnist Esteban Abarzua. “She is making us review the theory of the perfect penalty.”
For someone who hates taking pressure penalties, La Jefa definitely knows where to put them!
Memphis Depay ended a 12/12 successful run from the spot when his penalty was superbly saved by Turkey goalkeeper Ugurcan Cakir in last week’s World Cup qualifier. Depay is one of the few modern-day players who loves an authentic Panenka, but this time his GK-Independent shot to his non-natural side, from a short run-up, was kept out. It was Holland’s first open-play penalty miss for over 20 years – since their epic Euro 2000 game semi-final against Italy, a game in which Holland missed two penalties in normal-time, and three in the shoot-out. Frank de Boer missed two in that game… and he is now Holland coach.
Manchester City continue to find new ways to miss penalties. In the first leg of their women’s Champions League quarter-final against Barcelona, and already 2-0 down but chasing an away goal, City’s Chloe Kelly took this penalty. Her raised-knee stance pre run-up is similar to the Karate Kid, and I’m afraid I just can’t see the benefit. The shot is saved and City lost the game 3-0.
Kylian Mbappé ended a penalty conversion run of 9/9 when he missed his penalty in France’s 2-0 win over Kazakhstan. His kick, struck GK-Independent to his non-natural side, was saved by 39-year-old goalkeeper Aleksandr Mokin. Mbappé is 12/15 for his career but more worryingly for France, Les Bleus are on a current run of 3/7 (mainly down to Antoine Griezmann).
Please share any penalty thoughts or further questions to me either by commenting below or at @benlyt.
If you enjoyed this post, please spread the word about Twelve Yards and share this with your network. If you’re new, you can see recent pieces including: the Argentine penalty tradition sweeping across empty stadia in Europe, why Lionel Messi is average at penalties, how Robert Lewandowski became a penalty killer, who really invented the two-touch penalty (and Robert Pires relives his trauma), why it’s better to aim high than low, the great Ederson penalty debate, an interview with Antonin Panenka, how to define a true Panenka, how to end Antoine Griezmann’s run of five missed penalties in a row, penalty records in empty stadia, and Barcelona’s first shoot-out win in 23 years. Thank you!
Ben Lyttleton is the author of Twelve Yards: The Art and Psychology of the Perfect Penalty