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Feb. 16, 2023
For Immediate Release
Would Lionel Messi have lifted the World Cup in Qatar if he hadn’t won the coin toss and opted to kick first in the penalty shootout?
After a gripping 3-3 draw against France back in December, Argentina captain Messi correctly called the coin toss and elected for his side to go first in the resulting shootout, which his side won 4-2.
But would history have been different if French captain Hugo Lloris had called the coin toss correctly instead?
According to new research, there is a good chance Messi may have been denied had he called incorrectly as winning the coin toss and kicking first in elite soccer tournaments confers a sizeable advantage — with the first kicking team having a 22 per cent higher winning chance than the second.
In an effort to combat this, and restore fairness to the penalty shootout, researchers Marc Kilgour (Wilfrid Laurier University), Steven Brams (New York University) and Mehmet Ismail (King’s College London) have proposed a new system.
Under their proposed system — dubbed the "m-n rule" — the team that opts to kick first in a shootout must score five times before the end of the round in which the team taking second scores its fourth.
For the team taking second to win, it must score four penalty kicks before its opponent scores five. If both teams reach (5, 4) on the same round — when they both kick successfully at (4, 3) — then the game is decided by round-by-round sudden death, whereby the winner is the first team to score in a subsequent round when the other team does not.
(There is a table available here on Page 4 of the report to illustrate this.)
The game’s governing and rule-making bodies, FIFA and IFAB, have already recognized the unfairness in penalty shootouts and attempted to address it with the trial of the so-called ABBA rule in 2017, which changed the standard order of kicking from ABAB to ABBA. This, however, proved difficult to implement and confusing for spectators and was later dropped.
“The 'm-n rule' is far simpler to implement because it does not tamper with the order of kicking, which may be confusing for fans to keep track of,” said Laurier's Kilgour. “Instead, it focuses on the targets each team must reach to win.”
Ismail, who organized a workshop on fairness in sports and games in 2018 at King’s College London where David Elleray, the technical director of the IFAB, gave a keynote speech, added, “David Elleray emphasized the importance of simplicity in a rule change, as it increases its chances of being universally applied in soccer.”
“As the beautiful game continues to evolve, I hope that soccer authorities will test the 'm-n rule' on the field as they strive to make the sport fairer and more competitive,” said Steven Brams.
You can read the working paper “Fairer Shootouts in Soccer: The m-n Rule” here.
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Lori Chalmers Morrison, Director: Integrated Communications, External Relations
Wilfrid Laurier University
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