How does overtime and penalties work in the World Cup?

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The USMNT’s run to the knockout stages at the 2022 World Cup has brought many new fans to the sport.

There will be some real excitement before the next tournament takes place in North America, a continent better known for a variety of other sports.

In many of those sports, games are divided into four quarters instead of two halves, while ties are virtually non-existent.

For American fans who have been frustrated by tied games in this World Cup, there is relief as we move into the knockout stage.

What is overtime?

A soccer game lasts 90 minutes, divided into two 45-minute halves.

In knockout matches, such as the upcoming World Cup stage, there has to be a winner, so ties lead to a period of the game called “extra time”, a form of extra time.

Extra time consists of 30 minutes and, like the initial game, it is divided into two halves. Halves last 15 minutes each.

After being allowed to make five substitutions over the full 90 minutes, teams are given another substitution to use during overtime. Often they will use it to replace an exhausted player with a new one or they can bring in a player more capable of throwing a penalty.

What is a penalty? I hear you ask…

What if there is no winner after extra time?

Chances are good that after 90 minutes of stagnation, the extra 30 minutes still won’t produce a winner.

In the scenario where the score is still level after 120 minutes, a penalty shootout will take place.

The 2006 World Cup final was decided on penalties (Photo: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

For most neutral fans, it’s the dream ending to a World Cup soccer match, but for the players and fans of the nations involved, it’s terribly tense.

There is a great chance to become a hero with the winning penalty but, on the other hand, if you lose the decider, you can easily become a national villain.

How does a penalty shootout work?

The rules for a penalty shootout are as follows:

  • Both teams take five penalties each.
  • A different player must take each penalty.
  • The winner will be determined once all 10 penalties have been taken and there is a team with the most goals or when either team establishes an insurmountable lead.
  • If the teams have the same number of goals after 10 penalties have been taken, the shootout continues in sudden death format.
  • If enough penalties are taken and each player on each team (including the goalkeeper) has taken one, the shooters play again in the same or a new order until a winner is determined.

A coin is tossed to decide which team takes the first penalty. Our advice to captains in the World Cup: go first.

In 2018, an academic at the London School of Economics analyzed 1,000 penalty kicks taken at the World Cup and European Championships. From this, it was found that the team that took the first penalty won 60 per cent of penalty kicks.

How often have extra time and penalties decided matches in the World Cup?

There have been some incredibly iconic overtime and penalty shootouts in World Cup history.

In recent memory, the 2010 and 2014 finals were won in overtime. Andrés Iniesta was the hero of Spain 12 years ago while Mario Gotze had the honor of winning the World Cup for his country, Germany, eight years ago.

Iniesta’s goal in the 2010 World Cup final was scored in the 26th minute of extra time (Photo: Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)

Meanwhile, in 2006, it was penalties that decided whether France or Italy would take home the trophy. The Italians scored all five of their penalties and Fabio Grosso got the winning goal; David Trezeguet was the only man to miss from 12 yards on that occasion.

Looking at World Cups since the turn of the century, 28 of the 75 knockout games (not counting the third-place play-offs) have been decided by extra time or penalties. Here’s the breakdown.

World Cup knockout matches since 2002

round of 16 playoffs

Total: 40 matches

Decided by extra time: Seven games

Decided on penalties: Eight games

Quarter finals

Overall: 20 games

Decided by extra time: One game

Decided on penalties: Six games


Overall: 10 games

Decided by extra time: two games

Decided on penalties: One game


Total: five games

Decided by extra time: two games

Decided on penalties: One game

(Top photo: Alex Morton/Getty Images)

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