By Barry McEneaney
The burgeoning role of statistics as an analytical tool in the modern game polarises pundits and fans alike.
Interpreting just how much of this mountain of big data impacts on the final result isn’t an exact science, but Opta’s study on the success - or lack of it - of goalkeepers in the competition when facing penalty kicks makes for fascinating reading.
The sports data company’s information may not completely debunk the myth of the penalty “lottery”, but it does highlight the past performances of the keepers in the spot-kick firing line in club competition, and that has provided a good indicator of the custodians' success in Brazil to this point.
The data collated relates to custodians who have plied their trade in the top flights in Spain, England, France, Italy or Germany at any point from the start of the 2009/10 season and also included penalty data from the MLS in the US since 2011.
The data details the number of penalties faced, saved, the percentage of penalties saved, the percentage of penalties missed against (includes penalties saved, missed the target or hit the woodwork) and the overall percentage of penalty kicks conceded.
Manuel Neuer may be Germany’s undisputed first-choice keeper, but it’s Die Mannschaft’s Roman Weidenfeller who has saved a higher percentage of penalties than any other keeper remaining in the competition. The Borussia Dortmund star has stopped four of the nine kicks that he’s faced (44.4%). Neuer also ranks highly in this department. The Bayern Munich star has saved four from 12 (33.3%), which ranks him third in this discipline.
Fellow German Ron-Robert Zieler occupies an ignominious spot at the opposite end of the table, having failed to save any of the 11 penalties he’s faced.
Colombia’s Faryd Mondragon also blanked in his attempt to stop any of the six penalties he has had to deal with.
France may be hoping to avoid a shootout against Germany in the quarter-finals. Hugo Lloris has saved just two of the 22 penalties he’s faced in this period, while Les Bleus’ other stoppers also rank poorly compared to their World Cup contemporaries.
Keylor Navas must cut a particularly intimidating presence in the Costa Rica goal. Only five of the 10 penalties he faced were converted, but three of those efforts failed to even trouble the Levante man.
Jurgen Klinsmann should have plenty of cause for optimism if the USA end up in a shootout against Belgium. Not many would regard Tim Howard as a better keeper than rising star Thibaut Courtois, but the Everton netminder would appear to enjoy a significant statistical advantage over the young Belgian in this area. Howard has saved six of the 15 (40%) penalties he’s faced, while Courtois has stopped just one of the six fired his way and has already conceded a spot-kick during this tournament.
Switzerland’s best hopes of qualification could also come in a shootout. Diego Benaglio has already pulled off a save from a penalty in Brazil and boasts a slightly better penalty record than Argentina’s Sergio Romero.
In a study based on empirical evidence, the relevance of the data available is up for scrutiny.
The sample size is smaller than ideal, the pressure of a World Cup shootout must be far greater than that of one during a league season and the record of the penalty takers isn’t factored into this study.
There’s a myriad of arguments that could be made to diminish this data. However, in the two shootouts to date at this World Cup, the outcome has followed the keeper seedings, with Navas’ (pk save 20%, pk conceded 50%) Costa Rica ousting Orestis Karnezis’ (pk save 0%, pk conceded 100%) Greece and Julio Cesar’s (pk save 30%, pk conceded 70%) Brazil progressing past Claudio Bravo’s (pk save 13.3%, pk conceded 86.7%) Chile.