Penalties are a common occurrence in football and are usually awarded when a player commits a foul inside the penalty area. These fouls can range from tripping or pushing an opponent to handling the ball or committing a professional foul.
While penalties are a routine part of the game, it is not uncommon for them to be missed by the player taking them. It is generally accepted that misses from the spot are a relatively rare occurrence – but is this really the case?
How often are penalties awarded?
Looking at recent data, we can see that penalties, while more common now than has been the case historically, are still not seen in most football matches.
In the Premier League last season, for instance, there was a total of 103 penalties from 380 games in total. Over the past five seasons, the combined average was 100.4, meaning just over one in four matches has a penalty in it at some point during the 90 minutes. These numbers have remained reliably stable since the mid-2000s.
Reasons for missing
Of the over 100,000 penalties that have been taken in professional football since 2009, a study from InStat shows that around ¼ were missed overall. Breaking these numbers down even further, we can see that 17.5 per cent were saved, with four per cent missing the goal and 3.5 per cent hitting the woodwork. But what are the main reasons for missing a penalty?
One major consideration is the goalkeeper and their proficiency when it comes to stopping penalties. Indeed, some specialists are so impressive in stopping pens that they are substituted on to the field of play exclusively for penalty kicks. This was famously the case at the 2014 FIFA World Cup, where Tim Krul was brought on for the Netherlands to save penalties against Argentina.
However, another consideration is the pressure, as penalty takers need to hold their nerve. With an entire stadium watching and potentially thousands of hostile fans behind the goal trying to put you off, keeping your cool is no easy task – even for brilliant penalty-takers.
This is where it is a massive benefit for sides to have a renowned penalty or set-piece specialist. One example of a specialist in the modern game is Brentford’s Ivan Toney, who has scored 26 from 27 career penalties in open play. Historically in the Premier League, there was Matt Le Tissier, who only missed once from 15 yards in 48 career attempts.
Now we have a rough idea of how many penalties are missed, it is time to assess how often it actually happens. We naturally begin with the Premier League, where extensive data on penalty misses exists. In terms of all-time data, there have been a total of 2,278 penalties taken in the EPL up until January 2021.
Of those, 16.86 per cent were missed. Breaking that down further, we can see that 12.91 per cent of those were saved by the goalkeeper, with just under four per cent missing the target. What this goes to show is how high the conversion rate for penalties has remained in the league through the ages – and how misses are still something of a rarity.
Premier League penalty stats Aug 1992-Nov 2022
What’s worth pointing out, though, is that research has suggested balls hit into the net’s ‘upper third’ are harder to save than shots that are struck low. The keeper is also thought to be 33 per cent likelier to save them by simply staying in the middle rather than diving left or right.
In terms of the most successful goalkeepers from the spot, that title is held by former England man David James. The one-time Liverpool and Portsmouth star saved 13 in his long and illustrious Premier League career, an average of one every 44 matches. Just behind him are the likes of Thomas Sorensen, Mark Schwarzer and ex-USA international Brad Friedel – who all stopped 12.
In the case of them all, longevity was the main reason for their stop numbers rather than being especially effective.
The Premier League season which saw the most penalties missed/saved was 2011/12. In this season, a total of 22 pens were saved, with six being missed, producing a combined total of 28. The next highest season total was 2016/17, where a combined 25 were missed/saved. At the opposite end of the scale, we have 1993/94. Incredibly, as was the case for much of the 1990s, a surprisingly few number of penalties were saved/missed.
Indeed, out of the 82 that were taken that season (93/94), one was saved, and one was missed – a scarcely believable number. None were’ missed’ in both 1998/1999 and 2001/02. Another interesting Premier League stat related to penalties is that there has only ever been one season where more misses were recorded compared to saves. That was 1994/95, where there were three ‘misses’ to just one solitary ‘save’ from a total of 69 penalties.
Current season data
So far in the 2022/23 Premier League season (data correct as of matchday 15, Nov 14th), penalty numbers are trending in line with the average. As of the time of writing, there have been 46 penalties awarded between all 20 sides.
Of those, two have been missed, with nine being saved by the goalkeeper. Only two sides have had more than one penalty saved – Fulham and West Ham United. However, alongside Brentford, they’re also the two sides who have scored the most penalties this season, at four. Remarkably, both Liverpool and AFC Bournemouth are yet to win a penalty, let alone score one.
2022/23 Premier League penalty data
|West Ham United||6||3||2||4||4||–||2|
|Brighton & Hove Albion||3||6||1||2||3||–||–|
The World Cup
According to data taken from the 2018 FIFA World Cup, there were a total of 29 penalty kicks taken during the tournament, with seven of them being missed for a success rate of 82.5%.
The success rate for penalty kicks varies from year to year. It can depend on a variety of factors, including the skill of the players taking the penalties and the ability of the goalkeepers to save them. It is also worth noting that the success rate for penalty kicks can fluctuate wildly depending on the standard of football, as professional players tend to have a higher success rate than amateur players.
During the 2022 FIFA World Cup, there were 19 penalties taken in open play overall, ten fewer than in the previous edition in Russia. One of the speculated reasons for this concerns VAR and its early implementation. The 2018 World Cup was the first international competition to use VAR, and, in the estimation of some, the new technology led to officials being overzealous when it came to the awarding of spot kicks.
As such, a more reflective competition to look at in terms of penalty data is the 2022 edition in Qatar, where, of the 19 taken, five were missed/saved. One of the players who saw their spot-kick stopped by the goalkeeper was none other than eventual champion Lionel Messi, who was denied by Poland’s Wojciech Szczesny in a group stage match. Fellow countryman Robert Lewandowski, Ghana’s Andre Ayew, Salem Al Dawsari of Saudi, and Canadian superstar Alfonso Davies also missed.
Interestingly, all of their spot-kicks were saved instead of the taker missing the target or hitting the woodwork. The percentage of penalties missed at the 2022 World Cup was 26.31 per cent, an increase of almost 10 per cent compared to 2018.
Now that we know how many penalties were missed at the last two FIFA World Cups, it is time to look into the European Championships, another major competition.
The previous edition, Euro 2020, saw a grand total of 17 awarded, with nine scored. However, it’s worth noting that there were 51 matches during Euro 2020 compared to the World Cup standard of 64. The likes of Gareth Bale, Harry Kane and Alvaro Morata all missed from the spot at the tournament, which meant that, remarkably, 48.94 per cent of all spot kicks were saved or missed.
Four years earlier, it was a very different story. At Euro 2016 in France, four out of the 12 penalties taken in normal time were missed, or 34.43 per cent of them. Those who missed included Portuguese legend Cristiano Ronaldo against Austria, Sergio Ramos, Alexander Dragovic and Mesut Ozil.
|Competition||Penalties missed||Penalties scored||Minutes played per penalty miss|
|2021/22 Premier League||18||85||1900|
|2022 World Cup||5||14||1152|
|2018 World Cup||7||22||823|
Overall, as we have shown, an overwhelming number of penalty kicks in football today are scored compared to missed. Nevertheless, while this outcome was wholly expected, some curious discoveries were made along the way. For instance, a clear trend has emerged in the Premier League over the past decade showing that more penalties are being missed today than ever before.
We’ve also witnessed how much more common it is for a player to see their penalty saved by the goalkeeper than missing the target altogether. More than anything that shows the value of a great goalkeeper, one who has a proven track record as a penalty-saving specialist. Indeed, while we aren’t likely to see more misses than converted penalties anytime soon across a whole competition or league season, trend changes are inevitable.
So, to answer the titled question, just how often is a penalty missed in terms of time elapsed? Well, that very much depends on which tournament or league you are looking at. During the 2021/22 Premier League season, a penalty was missed/saved every 1900 minutes. Contrastingly, one was saved/missed every 1152 minutes at the 2022 World Cup and every 823 minutes at the 2018 World Cup.
Finally, in terms of the frequency of misses at the last couple of European Championships, it was one every 574 minutes for Euro 2020 and 1148 minutes for Euro 2016. It is important to note how much bigger the sample size was for the Premier League, but these figures give you a good idea of how much the data can range. Suffice it to say, if you’re planning on betting on a penalty miss during a Premier League match, maybe think twice!