Stepping up to the spot is surely one of the most nerve-racking moments of a footballer’s career. The stadium split between fans nervously cheering you on whilst the others bay for blood hoping they can get in your head. Then it all falls silent and it becomes a game of nerve between you and the keeper. It’s no wonder that 25% of penalties end up getting missed. Not where these guys are concerned though. Oh no, these are the top 10 penalty takers of all time.
For the purposes of clarity, only players who have taken 25 or more spot kicks are included.
10. Marco van Basten
The older generation know van Basten as the complete player; technically gifted, formidable in the air and a goal scorer. The younger generation know him as the scorer of that wonder volley he bagged against the Soviet Union in the 1988 European Championships as Holland won 2-0 to lift the trophy. He didn’t miss many spot kicks and four years later when Frank Rijkaard grabbed a late winner against Denmark in the Euros semi-finals the stage looked set for the Dutch to march on again. On this occasion, though van Basten served up one of just three missed penalties with Peter Schmeichel keeping his effort out.
Taken: 59 Scored: 56 Success Rate: 94.9%
9. Ferenc Puskas
When the award for the best goal of the year is named in your honour then it’s fair to say you were pretty special. Puskas was exactly that. His career boasted an incredible 598 goals in just 618 games – 84 of those strikes coming at international level. His trophy haul makes impressive reading too with 10 league titles, three European Cup wins and Olympic Gold. Puskas was dubbed the greatest goal scorer of the twentieth century and 70 out of 73 penalties isn’t a bad record either.
73 Scored: 70 Success Rate: 95.9%
8. Antonin Panenka
Two Austrian league titles and three domestic cups won in the same country hardly scream ‘legend’. Yet you’ve all heard of the Panenka penalty. Well this man is why. When someone cheekily dinks their penalty now we are divided in opinions about whether it’s class or arrogance. One thing is for sure though, when it comes off, you’re a genius. Imagine being the first man to ever attempt such a spot kick, then imagine it’s the 1976 European Championship final. You’ve blown a two-goal lead and it’s gone to a penalty shootout against West Germany. Your nation has never won a major trophy before. You stand over the ball knowing that hitting the net means victory. Then you go and dink a beauty straight down the middle to crown Czechoslovakia champions. Crazy? Yes. Audacious? Absolutely. Legend? He is now.
Taken: 25 Scored: 24 Success Rate: 96.0%
7. Laszlo Kubala
Kubala donned the colours of ten different clubs and, including Catalonia, four different national sides. He’s best known for his stint at Barcelona where he spent 13 seasons and won 13 trophies. The club that has Lionel Messi amongst their ranks now once worshipped Kubala in the same way; he mesmerised defenders, scored goals and was even voted as Barca’s best ever player in the late nineties. Clearly, he was pretty reliable from the spot too as a penalty conversion rate of 96.4% proves. To think he very nearly signed for Real Madrid before their biggest rivals hijacked the deal.
Taken: 28 Scored: 27 Success Rate: 96.4%
6. Jari Litmanen
When you look back at the career of Litmanen it’s easy to see him as someone who never fulfilled his true potential. His latter career was stop-start due to niggling injuries and many see him solely as a legend in Finland owing to the records for most caps and goals for their national team. Cast your mind back a little further though and there was a time when he was on the brink of being one of the best in the world. He won the 1995 Champions League with Ajax and finish third in the voting for the Balon d’Or. He might have had a nomadic career but he left a mark on most with over 200 goals to his name – 28 of them were spot kicks. He missed just one.
Taken: 29 Scored: 28 Success Rate: 96.6%
5. Gaizka Mendieta
Mendieta is best known for his time at Valencia where his close control and splendid technique earned him a big money move to Lazio. Spells with Barcelona and Middlesbrough brought an end to his career and although he never quite hit the same heights his ability was still plain for all to see. His preferred technique to penalty kicks was testament to his composure too. His method being to take a slow run up, wait for the keeper to commit before stroking the ball the other way. It worked too. 29 goals from 30 penalties can’t really be questioned.
Taken: 30 Scored: 29 Success Rate: 96.7%
Forget penalties for a second, Zico is one of the best players ever to play the game. Although he’s only fourth on this list, he is the best Brazilian penalty taker ever. That is not an easy feat to achieve. Romario, Ronaldo, Pele. They have nothing on Zico when it comes to spot kicks. Zico spent most of his career in his homeland but glowed on the world stage as he racked up 72 caps – and 52 goals – for the national side despite a fair few injuries. The history books remember Zico as a technical genius, full of flair and with an eye for goal. The fact he scored 93 out of 96 penalties is somewhat overlooked. A true legend of the game.
Taken: 96 Scored: 93 Success Rate: 96.9%
3. Cuauhtemoc Blanco
Look at where Blanco played most of his club career and there’s a reasonable chance his name doesn’t mean a great deal to a lot of people. Dig deeper though. He was some player. Two Gold Cups and a Confederations success for Mexico is a decent honours list on the international front and a club career that saw him bang in well over 200 goals makes nice reading for the sharp shooting spot kicker too. Still not impressed? Remember the gentleman from the 1998 World Cup who left to South Korean defenders standing like mannequins as he trapped the ball between his feet and flicked it through the pair of them? Clue, that move is now known as the Blanco trick.
Taken: 71 Scored: 73 Success Rate: 97.3%
2. Matt Le Tissier
‘Le God’, as he was known by his own fans, spent pretty much the entirety of his career with Southampton. During that time, he kept them in the Premier League almost by himself with the midfielder becoming world renown for his ability to produce something out of nothing – particularly where sensational goals were concerned. It’s widely acknowledged that the former Saints man was massively underutilised by England on the international scene and, given their poor record in penalty shootouts, maybe they could have done with him. Le Tissier‘s consistency from the spot saw him score 49 from 50 penalties. It wasn’t his tricks, goals or penalty taking skills that were the best thing about him though. Oh no, that has to go down as his loyalty.
Taken: 50 Scored: 49 Success Rate: 98.0%
1. Ledio Pano
Some people might question whether Pano deserves to be on this list with his career spent outside of the truly elite leagues. We, however, don’t care if he only played in Albania and Greece. A 100% record from 50 attempts is a truly remarkable feat. No matter what level. For that reason, Ledio Pano, take a bow. We applaud you.
Taken: 50 Scored: 50 Success Rate: 100.0%
There you have it, the 10 best penalty takers of all time. All of whom obliterate that 75% conversion statistic. Pressure? What pressure?