With penalty kicks about to take on a new level of importance at the World Cup, a British sports scientist says he has advice for coaches whose teams are moving through to the next round. Ken Bray at the University of Bath says his research shows that there are three stages to taking the perfect soccer penalty, information that could be crucial during the forthcoming knockout round, where sudden death shootouts could decide a team's ultimate fate. Jim Drury went to meet him.
UPSOT: PLAYER STRIKES BALL Scoring a penalty is something to celebrate. But nerves can strike even the most talented soccer player and with the World Cup knockout stages here, stategists are looking at the psychology of the spot kick. UPSOT: PLAYER STRIKES BALL They might also turn their attention to the research conducted by University of Bath sports scientist Ken Bray. Bray says he's devised the perfect penalty, beginning with what may seem obvious - placing the ball outside what he calls the goalkeeper's 'diving envelope'. SOUNDBITE (English) KEN BRAY, VISITING FELLOW AT UNIVERSITY OF BATH AND AUTHOR OF STUDY, SAYING: "It's about the maximum reach he can make diving in any direction to make a fingertip save. If you can place the ball outside of his diving envelope you should be successful almost 100 percent of the time." But Bray says there's more to it than that. He says the coach should have identified his five penalty takers long before the game begins. If teams are deadlocked after 120 minutes, each of those players can then be ready for their role in the decisive shootout. UPSOT: PLAYER STRIKES BALL Bray also dismisses the conventional wisdom of making your best penalty taker go first. UPSOT: BALL STRIKES CROSSBAR SOUNDBITE (English) KEN BRAY, VISITING FELLOW AT UNIVERSITY OF BATH AND AUTHOR OF STUDY, SAYING: "The argument goes that your less experienced players are more susceptible to nerves, anxiety, reduction of technique when their turn comes. So if you expose them to the penalty earlier you minimise the period at which they have to wait and they become more and more anxious effectively. So less experienced first, more experienced last, produces a better result on average." Some coaches say practising penalties is pointless, because shootout tension can't be reproduced during training sessions. But Bray disagrees. He compares the poor record of the Netherlands, who have a one-in-five shootout win ratio, with Germany's 83 percent scoring record. These players agree with Bray that the secret lies in keeping a clear head, aiming for the 'unsaveable zone', and not changing your mind during the run-up. UPSOT: BALL KICKED SOUNDBITE (English) LEE SMITH, SOCCER PLAYER, SAYING: "Technique on the day was to place the ball right foot and go to my right" SOUNDBITE (English) NATHAN BRYER, SOCCER PLAYER, SAYING: "I actually picked a spot that I was going to hit it to. Fortunately for me it was spot on." Nick Croucher says goalkeepers must use any trick to put off the penalty taker. SOUNDBITE (English) NICK CROUCHER, GOALKEEPER, SAYING: "When the player's walking up I'll have the ball in my hands before, so then they'll have to come and get it off me, so then as they're walking back I step out a little bit, so the ref has to tell me to step on my line. Just get into the players' heads." Two of the past five World Cup Finals were decided by penalties. For many Italian fans, Roberto Baggio's miss against Brazil in 1994 was a black mark on an otherwise illustrious career. Bray says this year's World Cup coaches should feel free to contact him for advice on how to avoid their own penalty-kick heartache. UPSOT: PLAYER SIGHING