Body language is key to predicting penalties

If England are forced to take part in a penalty shoot-out in the World Cup, goalkeeper David Seaman should study the takers' body language.

Academics believe a 'keeper may increase his chances of saving penalty kicks by watching how far the striker leans on his standing leg just before the kick.

If a right-footed striker leans heavily to his left he is more likely to shoot to his right side. If his leg and shoulders lean just a little to the left, he is more likely to shoot to his left.

Sports scientists at the University of Greenwich came to the conclusion after studying videos of 46 penalty kicks taken by a right-footed striker with the West Ham youth team.

The researchers found they could use visual clues unwittingly given by strikers to train 'keepers to recognise the signs that indicate where the striker is about to shoot. Al-Amin Kassam, a medical student who is also the goalkeeper for his university team, used a video camera set at eye-level to analyse the striker's movements during each penalty.

Ten goalkeepers who were shown video clips frozen at the moment the striker was about to kick the ball were asked to predict where they should dive. After just five minutes training, the keepers increase their accuracy by 9 per cent.

"Many goalkeepers rely too much on their gut instinct and on non-informative visual clues, such as the direction a striker is looking when talking a penalty – strikers frequently disguise the way they are looking," said Mr Kassam, who did the study as part of his postgraduate research.