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Friday, December 06, 2019

FIFA World Cup 2018: Lionel Messi pays the penalty for a doubting mind

A movie-maker by profession, Iceland keeper Hannes Halldorsson studied videos of Lionel Messi's penalties. They follow a pattern, especially the last five kicks.

By: Express News Service | New Delhi | Updated: June 18, 2018 10:26:06 am
Messi hasn’t hesitated to improvise, as he showed with the famous Cruyffian assist to Luis Suárez against Celta Vigo. (Source: Reuters)

Halldorsson’s educated guess
Hannes Halldorsson is only a part-time goalkeeper. Yet, he could rightly guess which way the world’s best player would aim his penalty kick. A movie-maker by profession, Halldorsson studied videos of Lionel Messi’s penalties. They follow a pattern, especially the last five kicks. The three successful ones were all aimed at the goalkeeper’s right. Twice he targeted the goalie’s left and on both occasions, the shot was saved.

When the Argentina forward stepped up to take the penalty on Saturday, Halldorsson made an educated guess. “I looked at a lot of penalties from Messi and had a good feeling that he would go this way (to his right) today,” he said.

And he did. Messi aimed at Halldorsson’s right, the goalie guessed right and pulled off a fine save. Messi was denied from the spot and it wasn’t the first time that has happened.

The numbers
Messi’s reputation of being a complete player is beyond reproach. He scores goals, creates chances for teammates and even contributes to the defensive side of the game when the situation demands. The only aspect of his game that isn’t as polished is his penalty-taking ability.

The five-time world player of the year has taken 103 penalties in his senior career, including club and international matches. Out of those, he has converted just 79, with a conversion rate of approximately 76.5 percent. In contrast, Cristiano Ronaldo has converted nearly 86 per cent of his penalties, beating the goalkeeper 104 times in 123 attempts.

According to the website Tifo football, the penalty missing rate in La Liga since the turn of the century has hovered around the 24 percent mark – the only facet in which Messi can be compared to an average player in the league.

Altering technique
Much like his overall play, Messi’s penalty technique isn’t about power. It is focused more on sending the goalkeeper the wrong way. He has altered this style over the years – from forcing the goalie to make the first move and slotting the ball in the opposite direction, Messi now picks his spot irrespective of the goalkeeper’s movements and hits it in that direction. This change was made after he missed a crucial penalty in the 2012 Champions League semifinal against Chelsea at Camp Nou, when Petr Cech stood his ground, disorienting Messi in the process. But Messi hasn’t hesitated to improvise, as he showed with the famous Cruyffian assist to Luis Suárez against Celta Vigo, where – instead of taking a direct shot at goal – he rolled it sideways and his Barcelona teammate thumped it past the ‘keeper.

Pressure point
The left-footed striker’s stronger side for penalties is his right. A glance through Messi’s penalties over the years reveals that when his team is trailing or in a tight situation, he often shoots in that direction. Ironically, that’s where he has also missed the most penalties (13 out of 54). Seven out of the last 10 penalties he has missed have all been in this direction. Surely, that would have been on Messi’s mind when he stepped up to take the penalty against Iceland, which would have given Argentina the lead. So instead of going to his stronger side – like he usually does in these scenarios – Messi went to his ‘unnatural’ side. Unfortunately for him, Halldorsson had studied the patterns. And Messi was denied once again.

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