From 12 yards out, Cristiano Ronaldo has been unstoppable. For goalkeepers, unreachable. Ronaldo has aimed 61 out of the 123 penalties in his senior career to the goalkeeper’s right. So when the Portugal captain stepped up to take the penalty against Spain on Thursday, there was little doubt as to which side he’ll shoot.
David de Gea anticipated as much. The Spanish goalkeeper tried to put Ronaldo off by standing a foot away from him and staring right at him as the striker placed the ball on the spot. Then, when the referee signalled, he even leapt to his right – hoping Ronaldo would shoot in his favourite direction. But before he made contact with the ball, Ronaldo opened his body ever so slightly and calmly slotted it in the opposite direction. Even the best goalkeeper couldn’t keep Ronaldo out.
Low and wide
Very few have, actually. Ronaldo’s conversion rate from the spot is staggering. Almost 16 percent of his total goals have come from penalties, the most among active players. The unique aspect about Ronaldo’s penalties is his placement. Majority of them, 87 to be precise, have been low and wide, often finding the side-netting.
Unlike Messi, who generally hits within the goalkeeper’s range, Ronaldo’s penalties are almost out of reach even if the custodian guesses the right direction. The precision with which he executes them is mind-boggling – out of the exact 100 times (65 to the goalkeeper’s right, 35 to left), he has shot low and wide, he has missed just 12 times.
Power as a weapon
While Messi is all about placement, Ronaldo is so confident in his ability when stepping up for a penalty that he generally goes for power as his weapon of choice.
That was evident with the now-famous ‘black magic penalty’ against PSG in the Champions League earlier this year, when the ball floated in the air momentarily as he smashed it past the goalkeeper.
Replays showed the force of Ronaldo planting his left foot caused the ball to flick up, before the forward made contact with his right boot.
His former Manchester United teammate Rio Ferdinand said Ronaldo practised such kicks at the training ground routinely.
Interestingly, Ronaldo’s conversion rate is higher when striking to his unnatural side, that is to the goalkeeper’s left.
Out of the 35 attempts, his shot has been stopped just three times while once the ball flew wide. So for opposition goalkeepers facing him from 12 yards, the best chance is to dive towards the corner of the goal, hoping for the best. It troubled him initially, but over the years he has out-thought them in that aspect as well, time and again executing the panenka with considerable success.
Penalty is Ronaldo’s most trusted weapon. His freekick record — despite the stunning strike against Spain on Thursday — has been abysmal in the last few years.
Of the 407 freekicks he has taken, Ronaldo has found the back of the net just 30 times. They form just seven perfect of his goals.
Messi is more successful of the two from freekicks but Ronaldo’s efficiency from the spot is unmatched. When you look at the overall figures, the difference between Ronaldo and Messi isn’t much. But their race for supremacy has come down to these fine details.