Two World Cups, a quarter-final of EURO 2021. This is what the penalty shootouts have cost the French national team in just 16 years. No nation has done worse in this exercise during this time period. Three shoot-outs, three defeats, three of the biggest disappointments in the history of Les Bleus.
After the elimination against Switzerland in the Round of 16 of the Euros last year, Didier Deschamps, Hugo Lloris and Raphaël Varane all spoke of penalty shootouts as a “lottery.”
The goalkeepers of the France team have – collectively – not stopped a penalty in a shootout since that of Demetrio Albertini in the quarter-finals of the 1998 World Cup. Hugo Lloris remains on nine penalties conceded in shootouts for Les Bleus: five against the Switzerland and four, Sunday, against Argentina.
These failures are primarily those of the goalkeepers and therefore currently sit with today’s captain of the France team. On average, according to a 2019 study, a goalkeeper saves 17.5% of penalties in a shootout. Over his entire career, and removing off-target penalties from his record, Lloris’ save percentage peaked at 8.7% (9 stopped out of 103 attempts on target) before Sunday night’s shootout. He remains on a terrible run, for club and national team combined, of 13 penalties that he’s failed to save consecutively because. although he won the last shootout with Tottenham against Chelsea, he owed that to the attempt that hit the post from Mason Mount (September 2020).
To find traces of a penalty stopped by Hugo Lloris in a shootout, you have to go back to the 2012 Trophée des Champions and two saves on Gaëtan Charbonnier and Henri Bédimo. Again, his shootout statistics are slightly below average with a save percentage of 16.7% (20 shots against, four stopped and one on the post). It is obviously not about questioning the talent of one of the two greatest French goalkeepers in history. But simply acknowledging a weakness that ends up costing France dearly.
In March 2019, Lloris himself admitted his limitations in shootouts, in an interview with L’Équipe: “I think that the hardest thing is to remain simple in his approach. There are goalkeepers who do it very well, and me, this is not the case. Some shooters are waiting for the slightest movement of the goalkeeper, and the very last moment. I would like to delay the shooter’s decision a little more, in general.” Sunday, against Argentina, this interplay was striking, especially on Messi’s shootout effort where Lloris dives very early and gives a clear indication to his opponent before he struck.
While, at the other end of the field, Emiliano Martinez grew in goal throughout the shootout, getting in French heads, Lloris didn’t achieve the same vis-à-vis the opponent’s takers. And these sessions are also a question of attitude. Whilst the Argentinian goalkeeper chucked the ball very far away to force Aurélien Tchouaméni out of his routine, Lloris did not engage in any underhanded manoeuvres.
Yassine Bounou, Emiliano Martinez, Dominik Livakovic have however shown the path to follow: destabilise the opponent, get into his head, be as big as possible in the goal, do some feinting on his line. “Today, with the analysts, we have all the elements. But there is a randomness involved where the shooters are able to strike anywhere. We can put things in place, and they can place it somewhere else. There is a part of it that is based on instinct and feeling too. Some goalkeepers excel more than others, they have their little secrets,” – this was Lloris’ sentiments on shootouts prior to the Round of 16 World Cup match vs Poland.
France’s reserve goalkeepers at this World Cup did not have much of a better record at penalty shootouts than Hugo Lloris.
Steve Mandanda has made 6 saves in 75 shootout attempts and Alphonse Areola has made 3 saves in 42 shootout attempts.
“You can take all the penalties you want in training, you will never recreate the conditions for a match, let alone a World Cup final: 120 minutes in the legs, the pressure of spectators, what’s at stake, the weather. It looks nothing like it, so it is useless” – this was Didier Deschamps’ perspective on shootouts before the 2018 World Cup final vs Croatia.
Does this haphazard approach need to be changed?
Some good news for Les Bleus fans – the man expected to be the future #1 for France, AC Milan goalkeeper Mike Maignan, has a very impressive penalty stopping record: with 23% of penalties saved (9 out of 39 attempts on target in his career), the former Lille man, who is establishing himself as the successor to Lloris, will have his case to make. If he hadn’t been injured for this tournament, would Didier Deschamps have had the courage to bring him into play last Sunday especially for the shootout? Another question that will haunt us for some time.
James Thorpe | GFFN