All you need to know about penalty shootouts

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What exactly is a penalty?

In regular play, a foul by the defense in the penalty box creates a penalty. The ball is placed on the “penalty spot” — the white dot in the middle of the box. Every player but the goalkeeper and one player from the opposing team — generally their best finisher — leaves the box, and it’s a one-on-one situation, with the attacker holding an obvious advantage because the keeper doesn’t know where he’s going to shoot the ball until he takes his shot.

So how does the penalty shootout work and how does it determine the winner?

It’s pretty straightforward. Both teams select five players to send to the penalty spot and take their shots in rotating order between them, with the team with the most penalties scored after the five winning. If after five penalties it’s still tied, penalties continue one back-and-forth round at a time — the first team to have an advantage after a round between both teams wins.

The higher the stakes, the more dramatic extra time and penalty shootouts tend to be — and there are no higher stakes in this sport than the World Cup.

How do you even get to the penalty shootout?

If after the 90 minutes of regulation time the score is tied, the match continues with two 15-minute periods of extra time to try and determine a winner. There is one extra substitution granted to each team during extra time, but there’s also only a few short minutes between the two 15-minute periods to rest and adjust.

Those 30 extra minutes tend to either be very frantically played or very slow and grinding, depending on the attitudes of the teams involved and their remaining energy. It’s not unusual for extra time to finish with the score still even, thus sending both teams to the penalty shootout. In other words, by the time you get to the shootout, both teams are exhausted and that fatigue only adds to the potential drama or heartbreak of the shootout.

What is the ABBA shootout format?

FIFA has been trialing a new format for penalty kick shootouts in smaller competitions, but decided against instituting it at the 2018 World Cup. Because the team that goes first in the classic format wins nearly 60 percent of shootouts, they’re trying out a new format where teams take two penalties in a row, structured like a tennis tiebreaker. It’s been used at UEFA youth tournaments, and the Football League is using it in its competitions in England.

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