Two-footed penalty takers

Will Ousmane Dembélé join a select group of two-footed penalty scorers?

Ousmane Dembélé has scored 28 goals for Barcelona; 14 with his right foot, and 14 with his left foot. He takes corners and free-kicks with both feet, and said in an interview while at Rennes that he is left-footed but kicks the ball harder with his right foot. Dembélé also takes penalties with his right foot.

Photo: EFE

I’m hoping that it is a matter of time before he starts taking penalties with his left foot. Then he would join a select group of players to have scored penalties with both feet. And two of them scored in World Cup finals. Here are their stories:

1.Andreas Brehme

1986, scored with left foot in World Cup quarter-final against Mexico  

1990, scored with right foot in World Cup final against Argentina

Brehme, scoring against Mexico (left) and Argentina (right)

Brehme scored the penalty that won Germany the 1990 World Cup. It was a surprise that he stepped up in the first place. Normally Lothar Matthaus, the captain, took the penalties. But before the game, the pair had agreed that Brehme would take one if it came to it. Brehme was quoted as saying:

“You need to have two or three penalty-takers in the team so if one is not confident, you send the one who is confident. You just need courage to take the responsibility. Was Lothar not confident at that moment? I don't know, you have to ask him!”

So I did. Matthaus told me that his new boots had been bothering him, and he felt more comfortable with Brehme taking it. There is a feeling in Germany that he bottled it. Matthaus also said that his penalty record depended on how he was playing at the time (he had been affected by a penalty he took in his last game for Borussia Moenchengladbach, in the 1984 German Cup final. Bayern Munich, the team he was set to join, were the opponents. The game finished 1-1 and Matthaus stepped up to take the first penalty and hit it over the crossbar.)

Brehme told Michael Donald more about the penalty for his book Goal!:

“I grabbed the ball and the worst thing about it was that the Argentines were arguing with the referee and they kept on kicking the ball away. That went on for maybe seven, eight minutes, until I could finally shoot. With the left foot I can shoot harder, with the right one more accurately. I didn’t ask myself for one second if I was going to shoot with my left or my right foot. It was obvious: with the right foot. I knew the corner I would shoot in, and I knew that [Sergio] Goycochea had saved many penalties. He guessed the right corner. I wasn’t really paying attention to Goycochea, to be honest. I was just glad when the ball was in the net, because it was very, very narrow. It was a relief."

Brehme said that he normally took penalties with his right foot. So the penalty against Argentina in 1990 was not the outlier; the one against Mexico in 1986 was.

2.Brandi Chastain

1999, scored with left foot in World Cup final against China

Brandi Chastain remembers the silence. There were 90,185 fans watching her walk to the penalty spot in the Rose Bowl, Pasadena, and all she could hear was her own breathing. After USA goalkeeper Briana Scurry had saved Liu Ying’s effort, Chastain was taking USA’s fifth kick to win the 1999 World Cup final shoot-out against China.

Photo: AP
Chastain was the team’s regular penalty-taker, usually kicking with her right foot, but had hit a right-footed penalty against the crossbar in a defeat to China, in a friendly, three months earlier. When assistant coach Lauren Gregg had drawn up the USA list, she put Chastain in sixth place. Tony DiCicco, the coach, moved her up to fifth. He also told her, during the break before the shoot-out, to take the penalty with her left foot. (Ben’s note: I love this proactive coaching decision when it comes to penalties; if coaches remove some decision-making from the players to allow them to focus on the execution, it can help – for example, in the case of non-frequent takers, telling them where to aim.)

Chastain was the only true two-footed player in the side. Her father would watch her knock a ball against a wall for hours with both feet, until she was just as good with her left as her right. Her grandfather would reward her when she played in junior games, paying her $1 for every goal, and $1.50 for every assist.

Every player had practised penalties in training, and DiCicco had liked Chastain’s left-footers; they were more precise, and harder to read, than her right-footed kicks, which would always go to the same side, the goalkeeper’s left. “It got to the point that goalkeepers knew where she would kick,” said DiCicco, figuring that changing her kicking foot would surprise China’s Gao Hong.

“I didn’t think anything of it at the time,” Chastain told me. “I was always ambidextrous, and so it always felt normal to use both feet too.”

She was not nervous. In the centre-circle, she decided where she wanted to kick the ball: to her natural side, as hard as she could. “I didn't mind if it went high or low, I just wanted to aim for that corner, and strike it hard.” As she made the walk, she kept her eyes down. “Don’t look at the goalkeeper, don’t look at the goalkeeper,” she said to herself.

Back in March, Gao had unnerved Chastain by walking off her line and standing right up to her before the missed penalty. “I didn't want her to have that edge on me again.”

Then, the penalty:

“It was complete slow-motion between my foot and the net. I’ve been in a car accident before, not a serious one, and just before it happened, everything went slow but there’s nothing you could do to change it. It seemed to take forever and while it traveled, everything was so quiet and still and slow. And when it hit the net: an explosion! Noise, cheering, cameras, team-mates, everything.”

Chastain had hit it high to the goalkeeper’s left, just like usual. Gao dived the right way, but could not reach it.

Before her team-mates jumped on her, Chastain fell to her knees and ripped off her shirt, waving it around her head. One year later, FIFA changed the rules, and made taking your shirt off a bookable offence.

Photo: Robert Beck/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images

Five years earlier, in the same stadium, on another baking hot day, Roberto Baggio had missed a penalty for Italy that won Brazil the World Cup; just like then, the post-penalty image was captured and shown around the world. This time, the tears were of joy.

I would love to know if there are any more players we can add to this list. In the Premier League, Bobby Zamora and Obafemi Martins have scored penalties with both feet. I have heard that Mesut Ozil attempted a penalty with his right foot for Schalke in a 2009 game against Werder Bremen – would love confirmation if anyone knows! Since this was first published, I have been told about two other players who have scored penalties with both feet. The first is Ianis Hagi, who scored two penalties in the same game with both feet, for Genk against Saint-Truidense in 2019. The other is Santi Cazorla, who has scored a Panenka penalty with his right foot and left foot… Bravo Santi! And perhaps Ousmane Dembélé will be the next.

PEN PALS:

  • Thanks to Sam for pointing me in the direction of Jonathan Ikone’s near-perfect Panenka penalty for France Under-21s last week. Ikone did admit he was a bit worried it might be going over the top, but the ball dropped beautifully. Great to see!