Penalty Shoot-Outs Are a Terrible Way to Decide a Soccer Match. Here’s a Better Idea.

In the knockout stage of this year’s World Cup, four matches finished 90 minutes of regular time and 30 minutes of overtime in draws, and were then decided by penalty shoot-outs: Croatia vs Japan, Morocco vs Spain, Argentina vs Netherlands, and Brazil vs Croatia.

Penalty shoot-outs are a terrible way to decide a soccer match, for the following reasons:


  •  There is no penalty involved. Awarding a penalty shot to a player who was fouled while taking a shot on goal makes sense. He was denied that fair shot, so he gets a man-to-man, high-odds chance of scoring on the opposing team’s unprotected goalkeeper. When a game is tied, what is the penalty? There is none, so neither outfield players nor goalkeepers should be subjected to this high-stress arrangement that creates the false impression that the losing goalkeeper in the shoot-out lost the game for his team.


  • It’s a different game. Changing from the dynamics of soccer field play to a staged shoot-out is like determining the winner of a draw with, say, an arm-wrestling match between the goalkeepers, or a coin toss, or team captains facing off in rock, scissors, paper. It’s a different game, with different rules, and disconnected from field play.


  • It loses the team spirit of soccer. If the teams could not find a way to win in team play, why should their poor goalkeepers suffer the high stress ending of a penalty shoot-out? All eyes are on them, everything comes down to this one awful moment, and they shoulder a disproportionate burden if they lose. It’s grossly unfair.


  • It’s boring for fans. Shoot-outs are a drag. They’re staged, no defensive players can help the goalkeeper, and there’s no excitement in seeing the teams compete for dominance on the field. They create a feeling in the stands of, “Why did we just sit through two hours of running around only to see the match determined in a different game?”


I have a better way to break a tie at the end of regular time.

It penalizes nobody, sticks with the rules of field play, maintains the team spirit of the game, and ratchets up excitement for fans. Kelly Overtime would be a “golden goal” arrangement (sudden death in which first score wins) that works like this:


  • Pull the goalkeepers. For the first 10 minutes of overtime, both teams pull their goalkeepers. The outfield players keep going and it’s up to them to defend their goals.


  • Pull two outfielders. In the second 10 minutes of overtime, both teams pull any two outfielders. The teams are now down to only eight players on the field, and no goalkeepers.


  • Pull two more outfielders. In the third 10 minutes of overtime, both teams pull two more outfielders. The teams are now down to only six players on the field, and no goalkeepers.


This would put no undue pressure on individual players, still follow regulation soccer rules but with fewer players on the field, require even better teamwork due to the shrinking roster, and be the most exciting part of the game. It would be quite a change of pace for fans to actually hope for overtime, given its new level of drama.

While I doubt many 30-minute overtimes run per the above rules would fail to produce a winner, any that did could just keep going until a winner emerged. Possibly, a fourth 10-minute period could lose two more outfielders. My vote would be to just keep going with six-man teams for as long as it takes for somebody to score. Tennis goes for as long as it takes. Why couldn’t soccer?

Come on, FIFA. It’s time to get rid of the penalty shoot-out. Teams and fans deserve better.

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  1. Chad
    Posted December 19, 2022 at 3:15 am | Permalink

    Well, this discussion couldn’t have been timelier.

    I usually don’t mind the drama of penalty kicks at the end of extra time, but with six goals scored in this World Cup final, penalty kicks felt like an unnecessary way to decide it. An argument could also be made to make extra time goals and golden goals (sudden death), which would have resulted in an Argentinian victory before penalty kicks.

    What a great match!


    • Posted December 19, 2022 at 8:47 am | Permalink

      This discussion was timely indeed!

      Watching the final match determined by yet another penalty shoot-out confirmed in my mind that FIFA needs to devise a better tie-breaking strategy. I wanted to watch them keep playing with fewer players on the field, those two great teams duking it out as teams. No such luck.

      At least the Cinderella story happened despite the shootout. Lionel Messi won a World Cup before retiring, and can head into the sunset on a completed resume.

      Congratulations, Argentina!


    Posted December 17, 2022 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    One of the best “tie-breakers” I have heard discussed is total number of corner kicks earned. The team with the most corner kicks wins the tie breaker after the 30-minute extra time. This tiebreaker would increase attacking soccer and result in more goals during regulation. The current tactic of luring your defender over to the corner and kick the ball off his leg to gain a corner, would cause the defender to stay back to prevent that from happening. This would allow the offensive player to face up to the goal with a clearer chance for an effective cross into the box. The team that was behind in corner kicks would not be willing to play for a tie.

    • Posted December 17, 2022 at 11:53 am | Permalink

      That’s another improvement over the penalty shoot-out, and might indeed make regulation more exciting.

  3. Kent
    Posted December 17, 2022 at 5:20 am | Permalink

    Sounds reasonable , but the only football that I know is American. And I will stay devoted to what I grew up with. The soccer riots put me on edge a wee bit. I know the “world” follows soccer, but not here in New England. Time to punt.

    • Posted December 17, 2022 at 11:38 am | Permalink

      I don’t get the world’s obsession with soccer, either, Kent. American football is more intelligent, pausing to set up plays, respond to the other team’s strategy, and so on. The scoring system is more exciting. The whole game is more exciting.

      Soccer devolves into just so much running around, with any semblance of planned play falling to pieces moments into execution. Almost all of the goals are more luck than skill (note, almost all). Step away for fifteen minutes and you usually return to something that looks like it was paused in your absence.

      • Clemens
        Posted December 19, 2022 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

        As a European it boggles my mind that American football can be seen as more exiting than soccer 🙂 I guess if you like lots of breaks for advertisements – then you have a case 😉

        I still enjoy both sports though personally overall I prefer Basketball

  4. Simon Wells
    Posted December 17, 2022 at 3:49 am | Permalink

    I get what you mean, wouldn’t that be a different game as well? Penalties should be not admitted in the knockout stage of any soccer tournament.

    • Posted December 17, 2022 at 11:34 am | Permalink

      It wouldn’t change the rules so much as change on-field resources of the teams within the same rules. It would be a slightly different game, but closer to the spirit of regular time than a penalty shoot-out.

  5. Tamar Frankiel
    Posted December 17, 2022 at 3:02 am | Permalink

    I’m fairly new to being a serious soccer spectator, and the so-called “penalty kicks” after overtime surprised me. They certainly shouldn’t be called penalty kicks, just because they look like one — they should be “overtime kicks” or similar. But I understand the point to be that these teams are so evenly matched that there’s no way to declare a winner based on skill and execution alone. Isn’t that true, really, at the finals levels? Besides, they are by now exhausted. One could just flip a coin — which is what happens if the kicks are tied. But to give them one more chance, it’s just 5 kickers against the goalie, a different skills emphasis. It still doesn’t mean (to me) that the winning team is better, but only one can go forward. It’s not just luck, but then a lot of goals and misses depend on a tiny piece of luck even in regular game time.

    • Posted December 17, 2022 at 11:51 am | Permalink

      But I suggest that the gradual depletion of on-field assets more thoroughly explores which team is better. They were evenly matched in regular time, hence the draw. They’re both exhausted. These Kelly OT rules would push them farther into the skills needed to win, and the eventual winner would be the better bet to advance in the tournament. The defenders would be the ones that were better able to defend against an untended goal, etc.

  6. rjm
    Posted December 17, 2022 at 2:40 am | Permalink

    Interesting idea. But, you want to take a look at statistics.

    An exceptional number of game deciding goals are decided in the last 5 minutes of regulation time. The pressure is on both sides to be aggressive with counter attacks, and with the Kelly OT, that might reduce to a much more defensive last five minutes.

    (I think the aggressiveness from both sides is due to the greater appreciation of just what a crapshoot the shootouts can be. If I’m remembering correctly, one reason England is not around in the semis is because Harry Kane, usually a lock for a goal in a shootout, sailed one over the bar. Better your chances on the field and reliance on actual skill… which suggests players would drop into a super defensive posture in those last five minutes.)

    The Kelly OT does, with the removal of goalkeepers, encourage an aggressive attack however.

    One downside is problem of fouls. Without a goalkeeper, a foul outside the box will change the strategy of the attacking team, and of course, a foul inside the box is effectively the end of the game.

    Finally, not sure how to deal with “goalkicks” (when the ball crosses the endline off the attacking team’s foot.) Keepers punt the ball (and use their hands in doing so.) That’s easier to deal with but it remains a question.

    I don’t disagree with shootouts being a poor way to end a game. One variation on the shootout which would place additional importance on skill might be to move the “spot” from where the shootout begins, progressively further away with each kick. Just a thought.


    • Posted December 17, 2022 at 11:47 am | Permalink

      These are good thoughts, Rick.

      You’re right that a foul inside the box would effectively end the game, but I’m not sure that this is a problem but more of how strategy would need to change. Maybe automatically ending the game is fine. It’s a tie-breaking phase after all. To prevent it from automatically ending the game, the defending team could be allowed to bring in its goaltender for the penalty kick only. These trade-offs would need to be sorted out.

      Thank you for deepening the discussion!


  7. Norm Harrison
    Posted December 17, 2022 at 2:38 am | Permalink

    Now that’s a great idea!

  8. Joe Burns
    Posted December 17, 2022 at 2:14 am | Permalink

    Hi Jason,

    Have never followed soccer for the exact reasons you bring up.

    A Merry Christmas and blessed New Year to you and your family.


    • Posted December 17, 2022 at 11:39 am | Permalink

      That’s one solution, Joe! Best holiday wishes back to you as well. Jason

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