Krul world as Dutch push the penalty ‘envelope’

ANTON RIPPON always thought penalties were simple: shoot beyond the goalkeeper’s reach. And now a university researcher has conducted a survey which has discovered something called “the unsaveable zone”

I can’t understand what all the World Cup fuss is about. I loved to take penalties, low to the goalkeeper’s right hand, just inside the post. I modelled myself on Ray Swallow. He used to take them for Derby County reserves. To be honest, I never felt any pressure. Never missed.

Pushing the envelope: sub keeper Tim Krul makes one of his two penalty saves in the World Cup quarter-final
Pushing the envelope: sub keeper Tim Krul makes one of his two penalty saves in the World Cup quarter-final

But then we were generally already 5-0 up, it was only the Derby Sunday League, and the opposition had usually been made up with late replacements recruited in the four-ale bar and still quite unsure whether they wanted to play or just go home and fall to sleep in front of ATV’s Star Soccer.

Actually, before we continue, mention of Star Soccer reminds me of Hugh Johns, who was working on the People as Welsh sports columnist when he was nabbed by Lew Grade to lead the ITV commentary team at the 1966 World Cup, a team that also included Gerry Loftus, John Camkin and Barry Davies. Poor old Hugh, his description of Geoff Hurst’s hat-trick goal (“Here’s Hurst, he might make it three. He has! He has … so that’s it. That is it!”) had always been overshadowed by Kenneth’s Wolstenholme’s “Some people are on the pitch. They think it’s all over … it is now!”

All of which has nothing to do with taking penalties, and neither does the story of the Japanese hotel employee who came over the public-address to ask for “Mr Huge Ones” to report to reception, but we’re not in a hurry are we?

Anyway, back to taking spot-kicks. I suppose that when tens of millions of people are watching and the fate of the nation’s football fortunes are resting upon your shoulders – or rather upon your steady nerve and boot – there is a bit more pressure than when facing Bridge Inn United’s 17st custodian on the number-19 parks pitch on the old Derby Racecourse.

How to better cope with the pressure? After last night’s quarter-final between the Netherland and Costa Rica, and Louis van Gaal’s substitution to bring on Tim Krul specifically for the penalty shoot-out, maybe Manchester United’s new boss has delivered up a new topic for study of a football researcher from the University of Bath.

Dr Ken Bray has this week warned that coaches need to better prepare their outfield players for penalties and that players must improve their game if they are to be successful when shoot-outs come around.

“There is a definite science to a perfect penalty and my strong advice would be to study this closely and to work on penalties that hit the ‘unsaveable zone’,” Dr Bray said.

Author of the book How to Score: Science & The Beautiful Game, Bray’s research has modelled the optimum placement of penalty kicks in order to define a goalkeeper’s “diving envelope” – the reach of a goalkeeper when attempting a save – and the unsaveable zones. He suggests that these areas of the goal, outside the goalkeeper’s diving envelope, can be hit by any reasonably skilled player and could dramatically increase their chances of scoring.

Did van Gaal calculate the difference between long-armed Krul’s diving envelope and that of Jasper Cillessen?

“Our research at Bath shows that goalies have only a finite reach when attempting a save. We call this reach the diving envelope. Strikers can place the ball close to the diving envelope, or even a little inside, with reasonable chances of successes. We call the area outside the diving envelope the unsaveable zone. Our research shows that just over 80 per cent of shots played into this area succeed,” he said.

I know what you’re thinking: if it’s called the “unsaveable zone”, why do only 80 per cent of shots into it succeed?

In a research video, Bray highlights the importance of placement technique to achieving the perfect penalty along with other key steps. He argues that coaches must be the ones in charge of selecting players for the shoot-out and they must select from the best available group of players – not wait for players to self-select. He also stresses the critical importance of good mental preparation, as well as physical preparation.

Now the Ray Swallow technique never let me down but, looking back 50 years, maybe I, too, was aiming outside the goalkeeper’s diving envelope. I just didn’t know it was called that.


Tue Jul 22: SJA/BT Sport Glasgow media reception: booking details here

Mon Sep 15: SJA Autumn Golf Day, Muswell Hill GC – Book your place now. Non-members very welcome

Thu Dec 11: SJA British Sports Awards, sponsored by The National Lottery, at the Grand Connaught Rooms