Andrew Bates

electric newspaperman

Science agrees: It was right to pick Ronaldo last in Euro semifinal shootout

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Courtesy Kerim Okten/EPA

We all had fun with yesterday’s Euro semifinal, didn’t we? Well, other than the lack of anything like chances over 120 minutes and boring, boring Spain. But Portugese talisman Cristiano Ronaldo looked really sad, and that’s what counts.

The initial reaction from the punters was disbelief that Ronaldo didn’t get to kick in the shootout: slotted as the fifth taker, he was ruled out after poor Bruno Alves hit the crossbar. Shouldn’t they have tried to jiggle the lineup and get him in earlier?

Well, no, according to science. Canadian hero Jason DeVos chimed in on Twitter with a selection from Science and Soccer, a 2003 sports psychology book. As the book points out, the order of your takers is one of the things you actually can plan ahead for in the shootout. Should your best taker be first, to claim the momentum, in the middle, to ensure he kicks, or at the end? Researchers in 2000 ran the combinations in computer simulations, and found that in fact, he should go last.

Analyses indicated that the order of 5-4-3-2-1 represents the best line-up with which to contest a penalty shoot-out–that is, the fifth-best penalty taker should take the first penalty kick, the fourth-best penalty taker the second penalty kick and so on.

So, yeah: if you think Ronaldo (33/34 for club teams since 2007, but had a penalty saved in this year’s Champion’s League semifinal against Bayern Munich) is your best taker, he goes last, regardless of whether or not the team gets to shoot first. But where you can scrutinise manager Paulo Bento’s selection is poor Bruno Alves, whose doomed shaggy mop made all the highlights before he struck the crossbar.

If Ronaldo is the best, he shoots last. But if you don’t consider Alves, a centreback, the second best penalty taker in Portugal, he should be shuffled to the front of the list and they should have chosen Nani or Pepe or another deputy to take the crucial fourth penalty. (We mourn and scorn Alves, but nobody remembers that Joao Moutinho had the first kick saved. It’s less important! Science.)

As DeVos reminds us, Spain picked pretend striker Cesc Fabregas last and if you turn the tables, it would be Ronaldo tasked with closing down the game. But isn’t it nice to watch him squirm? He’ll have to wait for another day.

Somewhere, Lionel Messi is laughing.