It was a heart sinking moment when I heard Luis Enrique instructed his players to practice 1,000 penalties before their knockout game against Morocco. Penalties is such a huge part of the game, and of knockout competitions. For years, under several managers, Celtic have underachieved in this dimension of the game. I harboured hopes that sufficient practice would be the solution.
On first hearing, 1,000 kicks sounds about right, but surely this was not a serious instruction and was not observed. As any elite sports person will tell you, it is too easy to practice wrong, and setting a target that sounds like an endurance achievement will surely produce negative outcomes.
Practising penalties for real requires preparation for each one, a goalkeeper who is also in the zone and ideally an observer who recording your outcomes. Still, elite players miss. At this World Cup, Lewandowski and Messi have missed from the spot during normal time. When you have to select five from a team of 11, the average conversion rate is sure to fall.
Outcomes can be benchmarked, however. If your conversion rate is below norm and significantly below elite level, you have practice to do. If you want to progress in knockout football, you always have practice to do. Luis Enrique will spend years wondering if he should have been more subtle with his instructions.