The goal is 192 square feet and the ball is placed only 12 yards from it. It should surely not be beyond professional footballers paid thousands of pounds a week to propel the one into the other, past a goalkeeper who has to stay on his line until the ball is kicked.
When Fulham's Danny Murphy strode up against Queens Park Rangers last weekend and nonchalantly knocked it into the top corner of the net past a helpless Paddy Kenny, penalty-taking looked the easiest thing in the world.
Normally the chances of success are 75 to 80 per cent. In the Premier League this season, however, that has been far from the case. Of the first 10 penalties taken this season, no fewer than seven were missed and Murphy's effort merely meant that as many have now been scored as not: 11 out of 22.
So what is the secret of the perfect penalty? Matt Le Tissier, who missed just one in more than 50 attempts and has seen many of this season's efforts in his role as a Sky Sports pundit, says confidence and technique are key. "My technique enabled me to side-foot the ball but also with quite a lot of power," he said. "I always went for the corners. I wasn't brave enough to hit it straight down the middle."
Even after the one that he missed for Southampton – it was saved by Nottingham Forest's Mark Crossley at the Dell – he remained confident in his own ability. "I converted 27 in a row afterwards, and never thought I was going to miss one of them."
It has been pointed out that when goalkeepers themselves take a penalty, they tend simply to hit the ball as hard as possible, on the basis that that is the hardest type to save. West Ham's Ray Stewart, the king of the spot-kick in the 1980s, was widely believed to work that way but he says there was more to it than that. "They say practice makes perfect and I believed that, so I worked hard at it. I did put a lot of power in, but I practised a lot on my own, not with a goalkeeper but just using cones in the goal, driving the ball into certain areas."
Theoretically, better pitches and lighter, swerving footballs should make the task easier these days, though as David Beckham, John Terry and Wayne Rooney have demonstrated, slipping on the turf at a crucial moment can be costly. Rooney and Liverpool's Luis Suarez, of all people, are the only players this season to have sent their kick high or wide. Of the other nine misses, eight were saved and one hit the post.
Some credit must go to goalkeepers, like Everton's Tim Howard, who got down brilliantly to push away Dirk Kuyt's shot in the Mersey derby last Saturday. With the amount of statistical analysis available to them at higher levels of the game, modern goalkeepers should have an advantage in knowing where the opposition's most regular penalty-taker usually puts the ball. Then, of course, the psychology kicks in and the taker may try a bluff, or double-bluff.
Crossley, who only retired last season at the age of 41, earned a reputation as the best penalty-stopper of his time, including a save from Tottenham's Gary Lineker in the 1991 FA Cup final. His advice to goalkeepers was to study players' records, watch the ball, and always dive one way or the other, hoping to save with his legs if the shot went down the middle.
In the last analysis, however, as Le Tissier says, a confident player should score far more than he misses.Reuse content