Opposition fans on your back, begging for you to miss. The goalkeeper seemingly doubled in size from the last time you looked at him. The goal appearing to shrink smaller and smaller by the second. You're 12 yards away with one opponent in front of you. All you have to do is put the ball past him and you're a hero. Fail however and you will forever be remembered as the villain. Welcome to the nerve-shredding event that is a penalty kick. Many a football career has been defined by success or failure from the penalty spot, as Roberto Baggio, David Beckham, Eric Cantona or Matt Le Tissier would testify.

So with the World Cup 2010 in full swing, what should a player do to ensure they are headed for national stardom rather than years of heartache? A study by the University of Exeter suggests that ignoring the goalkeeper and focusing only on your intended target gives you the best chance of success. It deems that the stress and nerves caused by the situation will mean that the player focuses on the goalkeeper, which results in the shot being placed more centrally in the goal and therefore being easier to save.

Alternatively, professors at John Moores University in Liverpool have offered a far more scientific approach to ensuring success from the spot. The study concludes the following:

  • The perfect penalty is struck at 65mph from a run up of no more than 6 paces.
  • The taker should strike the ball less than three seconds after the referee has blown the whistle, or more than 13 seconds after he has indicated play can resume.
  • The taker should approach the ball from an angle of 20-30 degrees and aim high to the keeper's left or right side, ideally with the ball crossing the line 0.5m below the crossbar and 0.5m inside of the post.

So there you have it, the taking of the perfect penalty is a simple process of ignoring goalkeepers and being obscenely accurate with every minor detail. Easier said than done however, as I'm sure England fans will tell you.