Penalty Shootout in Soccer: How It Works

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At the end of a soccer game where the scores are tied, you may see the players take part in a penalty shootout. If you’re new to the game of soccer or haven’t experienced many of these, you may be unsure about what happens. Having taken part in many penalty shootouts over the years, I want to share all the essential facts you need to know.

A penalty shootout is a series of penalty kicks taken by two soccer teams to determine the winner of a game. The teams take alternate kicks until one team has scored more goals than their opponents. The team with the most goals at the end of the penalty shootout is the winner of the game.

As with any activity, the sport of soccer requires the players to follow specific rules and procedures when taking part in a penalty shootout. By the end of this article, you will fully understand everything you need to know about a penalty shootout and even be able to explain the rules to all your friends!

Let’s get started!

What Is a Penalty Shootout?

What most soccer fans refer to as a penalty shootout is officially known as “kicks from the penalty mark”.

“Kicks from the penalty mark” is a far more descriptive name for part of a soccer game that is often a nail-biting and exciting affair.

One kick can be the difference between a team winning or losing a game.

A penalty shootout happens at the end of a game when the scores are tied. Both teams take it in turns to take a series of penalty kicks. The team that has scored the most goals at the end of the penalty shootout is the winner of the game.

If at the end of a penalty shootout the scores are still tied, then the two teams continue taking alternate penalty kicks until one team has scored more goals than the other.

A penalty shootout is used as the last resort for determining the outcome of a game when the scores are tied.

For many soccer games, it doesn’t matter if the game ends in a tie. When this happens, the league will award both teams one point each, and the players will switch their focus to their next game.

But in specific soccer tournaments such as the FIFA World Cup, the Copa America, or the MLS Playoffs, it’s not enough for a game to finish as a tie.

One team has to be the winner!

This is why soccer began using penalty shootouts as a tie-breaker.

Former Israel Football Association (IFA) general secretary, Joseph Dagan, is credited with inventing the penalty shootout. In 1969 he proposed that FIFA introduce penalty shootouts, and the lawmakers of soccer officially approved them in 1970.

Since then, penalty shootouts have been used at almost every major tournament and have become a vital part of soccer.

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How Does a Penalty Shootout Work?

Once the referee has signaled a penalty shootout will take place, there are a number of rules and procedures that the two teams must follow throughout the shootout.

Let’s go through them now so you understand what the players can and can’t do.

A penalty shootout works by each team selecting five players to take a series of penalty kicks at a goal. The defending goalkeeper is the only player permitted to be between the ball and the goal. After each player has taken a penalty kick, the team with the most goals is the winner of the game.

The rules for a penalty shootout are as follows:

  1. Each coach chooses five players to take a penalty kick
  2. The referee tosses a coin to decide where the players will take the kicks and who goes first
  3. The teams take alternate penalty kicks. Each player takes a turn
  4. The referee keeps track of the goals scored and declares the winner

Have a look at this video below to see some of the most dramatic penalty shootouts in recent history.

Dramatic Matches Decided by Penalties in Football - SPECIAL for 600K SUBS
Dramatic penalty shootouts in soccer

Choosing What Players Take the Penalty Kicks

The first decision a team needs to make before a penalty shootout in – which players are going to take the kicks.

In many of the big tournaments, the players will have been preparing for this scenario for months, if not years. The coach will have already drawn up a list of players to take each kick.

However, on the day, the coach may find they are without some of the players they had intended to be involved.

This could be because of:

  • injury
  • suspension
  • a sending off during the game
  • or substitutions made during the game

The only players eligible to take a kick during a penalty shootout are the players currently on the field of play at the end of the game. A team cannot use a player that has been substituted or sent off during the game.

When the coach draws up the list of players to take the kicks, they can only choose from the players currently involved in the game. This can include the goalkeeper.

The teams don’t have to inform the referee of the order the players will take their kick. But if one team ends the game with fewer players than the other, the larger team has to match the number of players on the smaller team and exclude one or more players from the penalty shootout.

The team must inform the referee of the name and number of the player excluded.

Deciding Where the Penalty Shootout Happens and Who Starts

The next step is for the referee to decide on the end of the field that the penalty kicks will take place and then decide which team takes their kick first.

Unless one end of the field is unusable or unsafe for any reason, the referee will toss a coin and designate one goal as the location of the penalty shootout.

Some teams feel there is an advantage to being at one end rather than the other, particularly if their fans are located behind one of the goals, but often it makes little difference.

After choosing the location, the referee will toss the coin again. Whichever team guesses correctly will decide if they would prefer to take the first kick in the penalty shootout or the second.

This choice can be important as many people believe that taking the first kick in a penalty shootout gives a team a significant advantage.

At this point, it’s time to get the penalty shootout underway.

Player’s Positions During a Penalty Shootout

During the penalty shootout, the position of all the players is important.

Except for the player taking the kick and the two goalies, all players must remain in the center circle of the soccer pitch. When it’s a player’s turn to take a kick, they can walk up to the penalty mark, but after their kick, they must head straight back to the middle of the field.

player positions at a penalty shootout
Positions of players at penalty shootouts

The goalkeepers remain in a different part of the field to the rest of their team.

When a goalie is defending a penalty, they must remain on the goal line, between the goalposts, until the kick is taken. This is the same for a goalie at any penalty kick throughout a game.

But when a goalkeeper steps aside for their opposite number to defend a kick, they don’t head back to the center circle to join the rest of their team.

The goalkeeper of the kicker must stay on the goal line, but just outside the penalty area. They must remain on the field of play at the point where the line of the penalty area meets the goal line.

Remaining in this position ensures the goalie is far enough away that they do not cause a distraction to the defending goalkeeper, but they are near enough to the goal not to cause a delay between kicks.

Taking the Kick

During a penalty shootout, the kicks are taken alternately by each team. A different player must take every kick.

The only time a player can take a second penalty kick is if every other player on a team has taken a kick and the scores are still tied. At this point, each team rotates through all their players again.

Seeing a player taking a second penalty kick at a penalty shootout doesn’t often happen. Most penalty shootouts are decided after the first five kicks by each team. Still, occasionally you will see a longer penalty shootout. Though not as long as the 48 kicks taken in 2005.

The longest penalty shootout ever was between KK Palace and the Civics and finished with KK Palace winning 17–16 after 48 penalty kicks. This penalty shootout took place at the end of the final of the 2005 Namibian Cup after the game finished with a 2-2 draw.

When taking the penalties, each team much follows the same rules in place for any penalty kick during a soccer game, as I clearly layout in my article – A Penalty Kick in Soccer: All your questions answered.

The main variation on these rules is that once the kicker has kicked the ball, they may not play the ball a second time even if the goalie saves the shot and the ball rebounds to them.

Once the ball is off the field, in the goal, or has stopped moving, the kick is complete.

Which Team Is the Winner?

At a penalty shootout, the winner is the team that has scored the most goals after each team has taken five attempts at goal. If the scores are tied at this point, the teams continue taking alternate kicks until one team is ahead on a tally of goals scored.

When the shootout starts, each team has five attempts to score a goal from the penalty mark.

Player taking penalty kick
Player taking a penalty kick

It is essentially a “best of five” arrangement. Whoever can score the most goals from five attempts wins.

This setup means that you will often see the referee declare a winning team before a team has taken all five penalty kicks.

For example, if team A has scored three goals from their first three attempts at goal and team B haven’t scored any, then there is no way that team B can now score more goals than team A from their two remaining penalty kicks.

At this point, the penalty shootout ends, and team A is the winning team.

But, what happens if a penalty shootout is tied?

If a penalty shoot-out is tied, then the two teams continue taking one penalty kick each until one team has scored more goals than the other.

At this stage, just one miss or save can win or lose a game.

Injuries, Offenses, and Substitutions During a Penalty Shootout

Injuries and Substitutions

During a penalty shootout, there is still the possibility of a player getting injured or a team wanting to make a substitution. But different rules apply at a penalty shootout than they do for the rest of the game.

This is particularly important concerning the goalie as they are a key player at every penalty kick.

Suppose a goalkeeper gets injured or cannot continue during a penalty shootout. In that case, they may be replaced by another player on their team, or a named substitute, if the team has not yet used their full quota of substitutions during the game.

Once the goalie has left the field, they cannot take any further part in the game.

These rules only apply to the goalkeeper. If any other player on a team is injured during the penalty shootout, the team must continue without them as the team cannot replace any player except the goalkeeper.

Offenses, Cautions, and Sending’s Off

There are many offenses that a player may commit at a penalty that could lead to a yellow card or even a red card for a serious offense. As I mentioned above, you can find a complete list in my article – A Penalty Kick in Soccer: All your questions answered.

referee issuing caution to soccer player
Referee cautioning soccer player

But what happens if a player commits one of these offenses at a penalty shootout?

The first thing to understand is that any warning or caution a player has received during the game is not carried over into the penalty shootout. This part of the game is a fresh start for all the players.

But a player can still be cautioned or sent off if they commit an offense the referee deems worthy of that specific consequence.

If the referee sends an outfield player off, the consequences are the same as if this happened during the rest of the game, and the coach cannot replace them.

But if the referee sends the goalie off, they must be replaced by an eligible player from the team. Usually, this means an outfield player will replace them and take the position of goalkeeper.

When and who commits an offense during a penalty determines what happens to that penalty kick.

  • If the goalie commits an offense during a penalty, the referee will warn them first and then caution them for a second offense. The kicker will retake the penalty after the referee has warned or cautioned the goalie.
  • If the kicker commits an offense during the penalty kick, the referee will caution the player, and the referee will record the kick as missed.
  • If both the kicker and the goalie commit an offense simultaneously, only the kicker is cautioned, and the referee will record the kick as missed.


So there you have it – your guide to penalty shootouts in soccer.

If you want to understand more about how soccer works, check out one of my following articles:

Ben Clayfield

Hi! My name's Ben. I've played, watched, read about, and enjoyed soccer throughout my life. I really enjoy finding out more about the game I love and sharing it with you all. Find out more about me here - Ben Clayfield

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