A penalty kick is a type of free kick in association football, taken from twelve yards (approximately eleven metres) out from goal and with only the goalkeeper of the defending team between the penalty taker and the goal.
A penalty kick is performed during normal play. Similar kicks are made in a penalty shootout to determine who progresses after a tied match; though similar in procedure these are not penalty kicks and are governed by different rules.
The referee signals the award of a penalty kick by blowing the whistle and pointing to the penalty mark.
All players other than the defending goalkeeper and the penalty taker must be outside the penalty area, behind the penalty mark, and at least ten yards (9.15 m) from the ball (i.e. outside the penalty arc) until the ball is kicked. The goalkeeper must remain between the goalposts on the goal-line facing the ball until the ball is kicked, but may move from side to side along the goal-line. If the goalkeeper moves forward before the ball is kicked, then the penalty must be kicked again if a goal is not scored.
After the referee blows his whistle, which is the signal for the kick to be taken, the kicker must kick the ball in a forward direction (not necessarily at the goal, though this is almost always the case). The ball is in play once it has been kicked and moved, and at this point in time other players may enter the penalty area and play continues as normal. However, most often a goal has already been scored, the ball has been kicked behind the goal line, or the keeper has gained possession of the ball.
The penalty kick is a form of direct free kick, meaning that a goal may be scored directly from it. If a goal is not scored, play continues as usual. As with all free kicks, the kicker may not play the ball a second time until it has been touched by another player even if the ball rebounds from the posts. However, a penalty kick is unusual in that, unlike general play, external interference directly after the kick has been taken may result in the kick being retaken, rather than the usual dropped-ball.
An own goal may not be scored by the kicking team, although this would be almost impossible since the ball has to be kicked in a forward direction to be a valid penalty kick. If the ball were to wind up in the kicking team's goal (for example, if the kick were to ricochet off the defending team's goalpost, travel the length of the pitch, and go into the opposite goal), a corner kick would be awarded to the defending team. An own goal can result off a penalty if the defending goalkeeper (or another member of the defending side) were to deflect a stopped or errant shot into the defending team's goal.
The referee may also caution (yellow card) players for infringements of the penalty kick law, e.g. repeated encroaching into the penalty area. Note that in practice, most minor penalty kick infringements are not penalised.
Note that all offences before kick are dealt with in this manner. For example if a defender impedes the progress of an opponent (either towards or away from the penalty area) before the kick is taken (even if the offence is not in the penalty area) then should the kicker not score, the kick will be retaken. Other offences by either the defending or attacking team before the kick regardless of their nature are dealt with subject to the four main requirements above.
As the shooter makes their approach to the ball, the keeper has only a few seconds to "read" the shooter's motions and decide where the ball will go. A goalkeeper may also rely on knowledge of the shooter's past behavior to inform their decision. An example of this would be by German national team goalkeeper Jens Lehmann in a match against Argentina in the 2006 World Cup, where he saved 2 penalties and came close to saving a third. The match came down to penalties and Lehmann was seen looking at a piece of paper kept in his sock before each Argentinian player would come forward for a penalty kick. It is presumed that information on each kicker's "habits" were written on this paper. This approach may not always be successful. Most times, especially in amateur football, the goalkeeper is often forced to guess. All things considered, a penalty shot is as much, if not more, a mental contest as a match of physical skills.
Even if the keeper does manage to block the shot, the ball may rebound back to the shooter or one of their teammates for another shot, with the keeper often in poor position to make a second save. This makes saving penalty kicks astonishingly difficult, because if the keeper has managed to block the penalty, it will very often rebound to an area near to the penalty taker, who will have an easier shot than the penalty itself (because they are most likely closer to the goal, and the goalkeeper is most likely in a position where he will not be able to make another save) This is not a concern in penalty shoot-outs, where just a single shot is permitted.
These factors would give one the impression that penalty kicks are scored almost 100% of the time. However, missed penalty kicks are not uncommon despite the simple circumstances. For instance, of 78 penalty kicks taken during FA Premier League 2005-06 season, 57 resulted in a goal, meaning almost 30% of the penalties were unsuccessful.
A German professor who has been studying penalty statistics in the German Bundesliga for 16 years found that 76% of all the penalties during those 16 years went in, and 99% of the shots in the higher half of the goal went in, although the higher half of the goal is generally a more risky target to aim at. During his career Roberto Baggio had two occurrences where his shot hit the upper bar, bounced downwards, rebound off the keeper and past the goal line for a goal.