Why Do Defenders Take Penalties In Football

Why Do Defenders Take Penalties In Football? (Explained)

In football, penalties are a clear chance to make a difference on the scoresheet.

Such a good opportunity is usually capitalised on by the best penalty taker on the team. Usually, you would associate this with a striker. Although uncommon for defenders to take penalties, it may still happen.

Is there a reason why defenders take penalties?

Here is what you need to know:

Why do defenders take penalties in football?

In a football match, any player can take the penalty as there are no limitations in the Laws of the Game. As such, any player who can put away the penalty steps up to the 12-yard spot. 

Thus, every player in the team is eligible to play penalties, including the defenders (both centre backs and fullbacks). 

Several reasons may cause a defender to step up for the team, and here are some of these reasons:

#1 They are the best penalty takers

Good finishing is essential since a penalty is a controlled 1v1 opportunity against the goalkeeper. Thus, the responsibility of penalty kicks usually rests on the attackers, who naturally have the best finishing. However, this is not always the case. 

A penalty kick requires far more than finishing. Penalties also require a calm composure, and the ability to not crack under pressure. 

If the defender is able to maintain his composure, he may be able to trick the goalkeeper into diving the wrong way.

An example of a defender who is the best penalty taker on the team is Domenico Criscito of Genoa. The Italian defender is the captain of the Serie A side and has scored 17 penalties since the 18/19 season. 

You can view some of the reasons why a defender can be awarded as the captain here.

#2 Absence of the main penalty taker

In a situation where the team’s main penalty taker is not on the pitch due to any reason (suspension, injury, substitution, etc.), the defender can step up to the spot

Usually, football teams have a pecking order of penalty takers. Thus, if the designated penalty takers are not present, the responsibility comes upon the second penalty taker.

In the 2021/22 Bundesliga season, Borrusia Dortmund’s left-back, Raphael Guerreiro scored a penalty for his club.

His opportunity came in a Bundesliga match against FC Augsburg when the regular penalty taker, Erling Haaland, was absent. 

Guerrerio stepped up to make the difference for his team and score the only penalty goal of his career.

#3 The situation is too tense

According to the laws of football, penalties are awarded after a foul in the box. Unlike other set pieces, it is always a clear-cut opportunity at goal. Thus, it is very likely to be controversial, and the opposition players always protest in the wake of such decisions.

You can find out which are the set pieces where you can’t be offside here.

In such cases, the opposition players become desperate and aggressively argue with the referee.

Moreover, when it is an away match, the opposition fans can also express their displeasure by booing and jeering to show their displeasure. 

These actions mount intense pressure on the penalty takers.

Thus, the main penalty taker may not be up to the task because of the tense situation. However, defenders are usually the most mentally solid players and may step up to bury the penalty for their teams. 

In the 2018 World Cup playoff match between Northern Ireland and Switzerland, the referee awarded a controversial penalty. This decision prompted a row of protests from Northern Ireland players and fans alike. 

However, Ricardo Rodriguez, the Swiss left-back, stepped up and scored the penalty which eventually sent his country to the World Cup

#4 Teammates may gift them the penalty

As penalties are clear-cut chances at goal, the main penalty taker may be inclined to allow another player to take the opportunity. 

In such scenarios, the team usually comfortably leads the game (e.g. two or more goals). 

As such, the penalty may be inconsequential to the match outcome

As a defender, you may be gifted a penalty by your teammate so you can celebrate your goal. This gesture may be for several reasons, which include:

  • Birthday: it may be the player’s birthday
  • Anniversary: it may be the player’s signing anniversary
  • Farewell game: it may be the defender’s last game before retirement
  • Child-birth: the player may be expecting a child, or his partner may have just given birth.
  • Tribute: the defender may want to pay tribute to a loved one, deceased or alive.

In 2017, Barcelona defender, Javier Mascherano was gifted a penalty by his teammate, Ivan Rakitic. This opportunity came in the 7-1 league rout of Osasuna. 

He scored this penalty which became his first goal after 319 appearances for the Blaugrana.

#5 Defenders have to take penalties during a shootout

During a knockout match, the game may be tied in a draw by the end of normal time and go into extra time. If the extra time also ends in a draw, a penalty shootout ensues to decide the winner.

In a penalty shootout, both teams select five penalty takers each for the decisive round.

Depending on how long the penalties are drawn out, all players may need to participate in the shootout. 

The penalty takers include defenders and even goalkeepers. By chance or design, the decisive penalty may become the responsibility of a defender.   

The 2006 World Cup final saw a penalty shootout between France and Italy. After such an eventful match, Italy’s left-back, Fabio Grosso, stepped up to score the decisive penalty

Famous examples of defenders who are penalty takers

Many defenders are great at penalty kicks. Here are 3 examples:

#1 Sergio Ramos

The legendary Spanish defender has been massive in defence for his entire career and is renowned among the greatest defenders ever. Although he left Real Madrid for Paris Saint-Germain, Ramos is notable for captaining Madrid to great success

While most of his contributions came from the back in defence, he also contributed to the attack when needed. Thus, his penalty abilities have proved crucial for his teams as well. 

Ramos has raked in over 100 goals in his career, including 30 goals from the penalty spot

#2 Leighton Baines

For most of the last decade, the Everton left-back became a Premier League household name. Baines was a special player for the toffees of Goodison Park until his retirement as a legend.

He contributed to both attacking and defensive ends in many games. In addition, Baines had an excellent reputation from the penalty spot. The Englishman scored 26 penalties throughout his career and missed just 5.

#3 Ronald Koeman

The Dutchman remains the highest goalscoring defender ever and is ranked among the greats. He was notable as a crucial player for Barcelona, where he helped bring glory to the club in the 90s

Koeman was especially a threat from the penalty spot. Of his 234 total career goals, Koeman scored 102 penalties and missed only 6.

It is an utterly impressive feat, and his exploits at the other end of the pitch inspired many other defenders to do the same.


While you may usually associate a striker with the player to take a penalty, defenders have some traits that allow them to be good penalty takers.

A penalty is just one way that a defender can score a goal.

However, you may want to note that you can’t score from the rebound if it hits the post!

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