Penalty Shootout Football

The Ultimate Guide To Penalty Shootouts In Football

Last updated on October 7th, 2022

The penalty shootout, football’s ultimate lottery, is one of the most exciting and nerve-racking aspects of the game because of its “winner takes all” format.

If this has ever piqued your interest, here’s a guide for you. 

What is a penalty shootout in football?

In modern football, a penalty shootout involves shooting from within the 18-yard area at a spot marked 12 yards from the goal line. It is usually a best-of-five competition, with the team that scores the highest number of penalties from five initial kicks emerging victorious.

In the 1990s in the United States of America, a different format of penalty shootouts was used. It involved a player running with the ball from 35 yards and having only five seconds to beat the goalkeeper.

This system was in place when the great Johan Cruyff played in the MLS, and he was of the opinion that it be brought to Europe.

However, it never happened.

When does a penalty shootout happen in a football match?

Penalty shootouts are used as the deciding factor in tournaments. Matches only go to penalty shootouts when they end in draws.

In standard football rules, knockout rounds usually result in penalty shootouts if they end up in a tie between the teams. 

However, before a match goes to penalty shootouts, the type of competition needs to be considered.

For example, in the English League Cup, matches are sent straight to a penalty shootout if a draw ensues after the regular 90 minutes.

This rule was put in place in 2018 to protect the players who had to compete on up to four fronts in the season. As a result, matches in the initial rounds of the League Cup go straight to penalties after 90 minutes.

You can find out how the League Cup differs from the FA Cup here.

In most other Cup competitions, teams play for up to 120 minutes before a match has to go to penalties. If the game is tied after 90 minutes, the teams will play for another 30 minute-period known as extra time.

The teams will find a way to get past each other in the first half and second half of the extra time.

A penalty shootout will ensue only when the teams are still in a tie at the end of extra time.

Penalty shootouts are only seen in Cup ties where a team has to knock the other team out. Examples include:

  • Domestic Cup competitions.
  • The latter stages of the UEFA Champions League (starting from the Round-of-16).
  • The latter stages of the UEFA Europa League (beginning from the Round-of-32).
  • FIFA World Cup (starting from the Round-of-16).

Others include the UEFA Nations League Finals, European Championship, Africa Cup of Nations, etc.

However, matches do not have to end in a penalty shootout in league football because ties are permitted. This means that two teams can play each other to a stalemate in a league match without a penalty shootout to decide the winner.

What matters to determine a winner at the end of the season is each team’s points. 

You can find out what happens when both teams have the same number of points in different competitions here.

Can substitute players take a penalty in a shootout?

When a team makes a substitution before a penalty shootout, it automatically means that the player taken off can play no part in the penalty shootout. Their replacements, however, can take part in the penalty shootout without any consequences. 

A perfect example of this scenario was seen in the Euro 2020 final between Italy and England at Wembley. England manager Gareth Southgate introduced Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford off the bench with only a few minutes left to play in extra-time.

They were introduced solely to participate in the penalty shootout, and they each took and missed their penalties.

This is just one of the reasons why a football manager may make late substitutions in a football match.

The substitution rules in football are clearly stated in Law 3 of the Laws of the Game. A team can make as many as six substitutions in a knockout game in many competitions, with the sixth substitution permitted only if the match goes to extra-time.

A substitute has every privilege accorded to a starter. 

Furthermore, they can also take a penalty in a shootout without restriction. Similarly, it must be acknowledged that a player whose team has substituted him off can not participate in a penalty shootout.

Moreover, players who have been sent off are not permitted to take a penalty in a penalty shootout. 

What happens when all 11 players score in the shootout?

If all 11 players from both teams score in the penalty shootout, the penalty shootout will restart from the first taker and will go for another round, similar to the initial round.

Penalties are tough to predict in football because very fine margins may determine the outcome of a penalty shootout.

Sometimes, however, things do not go as planned. For example, there is the possibility that both teams would deliver a flawless penalty shootout that sees not just the first five kickers score but the entire 11 players. If this happens, it would mean that the shootout will start all over again from the first taker

Provided that there are no injuries or suspensions during the shootout, the 12th penalty taker will be the player who took the very first penalty shot.

An example of an impeccable team from the spot in a shootout is Liverpool during the 2022 Carabao Cup final against Chelsea. All 11 takers for Liverpool scored their penalties before Chelsea’s goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga saw his own effort fly over the goal.

If he had scored, he would have forced the shootout to restart from the first taker once more.

Can a player take two penalties?

A player can take a second penalty in a penalty shootout only if every other player has taken a penalty from both teams, and the score still remains level.

In 2020, AC Milan qualified for the group stage of the UEFA Europa League by beating Rio Ave 9-8 on penalties in a shootout that saw 24 penalties taken. All 11 players for each team took at least two penalties in this shootout. 

This is in line with the law governing penalty shootouts from the Laws of the Game that says, “Each kick is taken by a different player, and all eligible players must take a kick before any player can take a second kick”. 

This means that players may take more than one penalty if no winner has been determined, even after a round of penalties from all 11 players.

Can a penalty shootout go on forever?

The penalty shootout will go on forever until a winner is determined where one team scores while the other fails to score.

The wisdom behind a penalty shootout is to provide an outright winner in a tie. So, at first, both teams will play a best-of-five game with penalties.

Then, if they are still level after five penalties apiece, the penalties will go to sudden death

In sudden death mode, the penalties continue until one team misses and the other scores. This means that a penalty shootout can go on for as long as possible until a winner is produced.

The above submission is corroborated by Law 10 of the Laws of the Game, which says, “If, after both teams have taken five kicks, the scores are level, kicks continue until one team has scored a goal more than the other from the same number of kicks”. 

The longest penalty shootout in the game’s history occurred recently when Washington and Bedlington, two 10th tier English clubs, faced off in the Ernest Armstrong Memorial Cup.

The sides took a record 54 penalties in their penalty shootout before Washington won 25-24.

However, according to the last recorded Guinness Book of Records, the longest penalty shootout took place in the Namibian Cup in 2005 between KK Palace and Civics. KK Palace won the shootout 17-16 after the sides had played a combined 48 kicks.


In football, penalty shootouts are a common practice when there is a need to settle a tie.

Most knockout competitions use penalty shootouts to determine who emerges victorious.

In the past, the golden goal and silver goal rules were used to determine the winners of a knockout tie until IFAB universally abolished the law in 2004.

Since then, penalty shootouts have become the significant deciders in knockout ties. However, the golden goal is still used in some parts of the USA. 

Famous penalty shootout scenarios include the 2006 FIFA World Cup final, 2012 UEFA Champions League final, 2021 UEFA Europa League final, and the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations final, among others.

You can find out what happens when a football player hits the post during a penalty here.

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