Monday, June 27, 2016

Messi’s Miss

Feel a bit for Lionel Messi, the footballing legend from Rosario who missed a penalty kick in last night’s Copa America finale for Argentina, with his team subsequently losing to Chile for a second straight Copa final.

Following the match, Messi announced he’d no longer be playing for the Argentinian team, a bit of a surprise even if (apparently) there might have been other reasons for his decision besides last night’s outcome. Still, if they’d won, it doesn’t seem likely he’d have made such an announcement so soon after the match (within an hour of its ending, I think).

I ended up watching the match quite closely, which seemed a bit chaotic with the refs’ control appearing tenuous for much of the way. Argentina clearly seemed the better side -- and I think all agree Messi was the best player on the pitch -- but Chile battled gamely to get it to PKs, and ended up making one more than Argentina to secure the win.

People compare the mental challenge of a penalty kick to other sports-related tests like hitting a free throw or making a putt in golf. Not really sure if the three are all that like one another, to be honest, but I can see why the comparison is a tempting one to make.

I’ve read online that the average success rate for PKs tends to be around 75%. That’s very close to the league average for free throws made in the NBA, which has been right around 75% for the last 15 years or so. That same 75% figure applies to putts of around six feet or so among PGA Tour players, who naturally make a lot higher percentage from closer in and a lower percentage the further out you go (with eight feet marking the point where they start dipping below 50%).

I suppose for Messi you’d expect a higher percentage of makes, and certainly a higher percentage of PK shots that at least would be successful if not for a goalie’s defense. (Messi’s shot cleared the crossbar last night.) Still, it more or less comes down to a higher pocket pair-versus-lower pocket pair scenario -- about a 4-to-1 favorite -- meaning it’ll happen, and not all that rarely, that there will be a miss.

Just like some poker hands, though, some shots are more important than others, and are thus remembered more vividly and recounted more often.

Image: “Messi 10” (adapted), Francisco Javier Gutierrez Zuñiga. CC BY-ND 2.0.

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