Death. Taxes. And Saki Kumagai scoring penalties for Lyon. For years, those were the three things we could all count on. But nothing lasts forever (except maybe Lyon’s dominance in D1 Féminine), and things took a turn as last season came to a close. Kumagai saw a penalty saved, Coach Pedros began shuffling the deck, and all of a sudden the world’s most lethal team has become decidedly less lethal from the spot.
Case in point: In their last D1F match, on November 3 against Dijon, Lyon were awarded a first-half penalty when Amel Majri was brought down in the box. All-world scorer Ada Hegerberg stepped up to take the shot, and you could feel the fans celebrating already. But Hegerberg’s shot left plenty to be desired and the goalkeeper got down and to her left for a straightforward save.
The day wasn’t a total bust from a penalty perspective though: After Emelyne Laurent was felled in stoppage time, Captain Wendie Renard stepped up to take Lyon’s second penalty of the match. Renard’s high, hard shot was out of the keeper’s reach to put the finishing touch on OL’s 5-0 win.
Look – no one’s losing sleep over a missed penalty in a five-goal victory, but the games only get tighter from here. Set aside the daunting Champions League quarterfinals with familiar foe Wolfsburg on the horizon – OL’s next opponent on the other side of the international break is PSG. In case you need a reminder of how tight those matchups have been:
|CdF||May 31, 2018||PSG 1-0 Lyon|
|D1F||May 18, 2018||PSG 0-0 Lyon|
|D1F||Dec. 11, 2017||Lyon 1-0 PSG|
|UWCL||June 1, 2017||Lyon 0-0 PSG (Lyon win 7-6 on penalties)|
|Cdf||May 19, 2017||Lyon 1-1 PSG (Lyon win 7-6 on penalties)|
These are the kind of games where OL can’t afford to leave scoring chances on the table. Every penalty counts. But too few of them have been hitting the back of the net recently.
Coming into the 2017-2018 season, Lyon were riding high when it comes to penalties. The previous year ended with two incredible shootout victories to bring home both the Coupe de France and UEFA Women’s Champions League Trophies.
In September 2017, Saki Kumagai scored a penalty in a match against Guingamp. It was her 20th conversion in 20 opportunities; in her four years with Lyon, she had never missed a regulation time penalty.
So, yeah, we all did a double-take in October when Lille keeper Elisa Launay turned aside Kumagai’s penalty, finally breaking the streak. But Kumagai bounced back quickly, scoring a penalty a week later against Albi, and it seemed like everything was back to normal. And for a while, it was.
Here’s a look at every OL penalty shot since the start of the 2017-2018 season. See if you can spot the moment things got a little dodgy:
|2017/10/11||Medyk Konin||Saki Kumagai||√|
|2017/11/08||@BIIK Kazygurt||Ada Hegerberg||√|
|2017/11/15||BIIK Kazygurt||Ada Hegerberg||√|
|2017/11/19||FC Fleury 91||Saki Kumagai||√|
|2018/03/11||ASJ Soyaux||Saki Kumagai||√|
|2018/08/19||SC Sand||Griedge Mbock||√|
In May, promising American goalkeeper Casey Murphy stopped Kumagai’s penalty in the Coupe de France semifinal with an excellent save:
Kieran Theivam (Tayvam) (@KiersTheivam) May 07, 2018
And that’s when things went awry. A week and a half later, Lyon and PSG were locked in a tight, tense affair when PSG’s defender sent Ada Hegerberg sprawling after a nifty spin move by the striker. OL turned not to Kumagai, but instead to Dzsenifer Marozsan to take the shot. But Maro’s kick was forgettable and Christiane Endler made the easy save.
The missed penalty was costly for Lyon, who never came closer to scoring and had to settle for a 0-0 draw—a lone blemish on last year’s D1F campaign.
And the summer break didn’t exactly wipe the slate clean for the titleholders. When OL was awarded its first penalty of the year in a preseason friendly against Grenoble, Hegerberg stepped up to the spot and put it comfortably within reach of the keeper for the team’s third straight miss.
Amel Majri and Griedge Mbock were able to turn the trend around before the end of the preseason with goals from the spot. But Hegerberg’s miss in Lyon’s first opportunity of the regular season suggests the team’s penalty woes aren’t entirely in the past just yet.
On a team this good, Coach Pedros has no shortage of options to call upon to take the kick in the big moments. Do we need a successor to Saki Kumagai? Or does the original standout from the spot still remain the best? We’re looking at Lyon’s past penalty glory—and recent struggles—to answer the critical question: Who should step up for the shot?
“She is a player who has won the lot,” said the English commentator when Saki Kumagai stepped up in the 2017 Champions League final shootout. He wasn’t kidding. Just a year earlier, it was Kumagai’s kick that sent Lyon fans home happy following the 2016 Champions League final shootout against Wolfsburg.
And in 2011, it was Kumagai’s kick that sent American fans home crying following the shootout in the World Cup final.
Big moments? Saki has seen them all and calmly slotted her shot home. Kumagai’s long run up gives her plenty of time to read the keeper, and she can put her shot just about anywhere she likes. It’s enough to give goalkeepers fits.
So where has she been? Kumagai hasn’t stepped up for a penalty since Murphy’s save in the Montpellier game. To be fair, she was on the bench for the most recent round of penalties against Dijon, but she was available against PSG and she was on the field for at least a few of the preseason opportunities.
Is it a crisis of confidence? Kumagai has converted 25 of her 27 penalty opportunities during her career at Lyon. I think we can let her off the hook for two missed chances last year.
And we know she can bounce back from missed penalties quickly. In 2017, Kumagai actually missed in the shootout in the Coupe de France final (though she had scored a penalty in regular time, despite plenty of hijinks by PSG keeper Kiedrzynek). But a week later, she comfortably converted her shot in the Champions League final. And after her first in-game miss for Lyon in October of last year, she reeled off four straight goals before another was saved.
There’s a reason Saki has been Lyon’s Miss Penalty for years. Is there anyone who can dethrone the Queen?
Pop quiz: Who is the only OL player to have scored in all four finals shootouts since 2010?* Yep, it’s Captain Wendie.
*Having trouble remembering everyone who stepped up in the finals? Check out our charts at the end of this article showing the penalty takers and how they performed.
Renard brings plenty of power to her penalties. Even if the keeper gets a hand to it, there’s no guarantee she’s stopping it. But that’s not a knock on Renard’s technique. She can place the ball out of reach too, just as she demonstrated by roofing it in the match against Dijon.
Renard can mix it up too. For example, in the 2017 Coupe de France final, she faked a windup like she was about to blast her shot through Kiedrzynek’s hands . . . only to dink a changeup exactly in the spot the goalkeeper had vacated. A week later, she crossed up Kiedrzynek with a tidy shot low to the opposite corner.
The fact that Renard stepped up for the second penalty in the Dijon match may signal that she has worked her way into the coach’s top picks for shooters. If there is an heir apparent to Queen Saki, the Captain may be the favorite.
Sure, there aren’t many teams that have their star centerback lining up as their default shooter for penalties. But if you were a goalkeeper, can you imagine anyone you’d less want to see staring you down from the spot than a determined Wendie Renard?
By the time she was 23 years old, Ada Hegerberg had already scored over 250 professional goals. Give her a few years, and she could break every scoring record there is. She’s already broken the record for most goals in a single Champions League campaign with 15—two of which were from the spot against BIIK Kazygurt.
With that kind of goal scoring track record, it’s no surprise that Lyon would turn to the Norwegian striker as a legitimate penalty option. But Ada has missed two attempts since the start of the summer. And her 2016 Champions League final attempt was turned away too.
It’s fair to say that 2018 has not been Ada’s best year on record—and yes, we’ll pause for a moment to note how absurd it is to call 13 goals in 12 games a “down” year—and perhaps the penalty struggles are just a reflection of broader troubles with finishing.
Hegerberg can be a streaky player, and if she gets on a roll scoring from the run of play, perhaps successful penalties will follow. Or maybe the same is true in reverse. Perhaps a few buried penalties will be just what it takes for Hegerberg to return to her usual unstoppable self.
Either way, it seems significant that Hegerberg didn’t get a second chance from the spot in the match against Dijon. There will be plenty of other opportunities to Hegerberg to pump her scoring numbers, and it would be hard to fault Coach Pedros for taking the pressure off of his young superstar.
When Coach Pedros began mixing up his penalty shooters last year, Maro was his go-to girl. The German playmaker converted comfortably with a hard hooked shot against Bordeaux in February. But her shot against PSG in May was not quite up to par, and the memory of that missed scoring opportunity still stings.
Maro has also been inconsistent on penalties with her national team. She converted against Slovenia in September 2017, but a second attempt against Slovenia in April 2018 was saved.
Marozsan generally aims for precision over power. It looks like art when it works:
But it makes for a very save-able penalty when she doesn’t get the placement quite right.
Teammates Ada Hegerberg and Eugénie Le Sommer recently named Maro as the coach’s pet, so perhaps Maro still has the inside track for penalty duties once she’s back to full health. For now, as long as she’s estimating that she’s only back at 65-70% capacity, Coach Pedros will likely have to look elsewhere.
If one centerback can take penalties, why not the other? Mbock is a dark horse candidate for the shooting role, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t deserve her shot.
Mbock wasn’t around for the 2010 Champions League final shootout, but she did score in each of the last three final shootouts. Those weren’t cheap goals either; both 2017 final shots were high and towards the corner.
Limited evidence suggests that Mbock can convert in-game as well. She scored a penalty in a preseason match against SC Sand. And she converted while on national team duty in October, recording France’s sixth and final goal over Cameroon.
Mbock has been on a scoring tear lately, with two goals against Ajax and two goals against Cameroon. So if Coach Pedros is looking for a hot hand to take his penalties, maybe it’s time to call Mbock back to action.
Eugénie Le Sommer
Is it weird that it has taken us this long to talk about Eugénie Le Sommer? You remember Le Sommer, right? On track to take over as France’s all-time leading scorer? Pretty good goal scoring record for Lyon as well?
And yet Le Sommer has not been called upon to take even one of 17 penalties Lyon has been awarded since the start of the 2017-2018 season. It’s not that she doesn’t have the skill; Le Sommer has taken and converted penalties for France, including against Mexico in September and against Canada in April.
As for finals shootouts, Le Sommer is one for two. She scored in the 2017 Coupe de France final, but Kiedrzynek pushed her shot in the Champions League final off the post for a nice save that gave the Lyon faithful a pretty good heart attack for a while there.
There’s no reason Le Sommer can’t be a great penalty taker. She puts plenty of power on her shot and her placement isn’t too shabby either. If Coach Pedros is searching for a new option, the French striker might have just what he’s looking for.
Majri was first up to shoot in both the Coupe de France and Champions League finals in 2017. That’s a big spot with plenty of pressure to get on the board.
She scored both times . . . but you wouldn’t call it comfortable. The goalkeeper guessed right on both occasions, but Majri’s shots snuck just under Kiedrzynek’s outstretched arms.
Majri also scored a penalty over the summer in a preseason friendly against Grenoble. And, importantly, no one has been more on fire to start this season than Amel. Seven goals in league play, a goal in each Champions League match, and a bunch of assists to go with it.
All evidence suggests that no keeper has what it takes to stop Majri this season. So why should penalties be any different? With a little craftiness, Majri might have what it takes to earn the inside track to penalty duties as long as the Year of Amel continues.
A modest proposal: Name Sarah Bouhaddi as Lyon’s official penalty shooter.
Am I serious? Completely.
First, let’s take a moment to watch the greatest penalty in OL Féminin history on loop:
Not enough for you? Okay, how about this: That wasn’t even the first time Bouhaddi has scored in a Champions League final shootout! She also converted in a losing effort in the 2010 Champions League final.
Still not convinced? In one of the funkier shootouts in Lyon history, Bouhaddi scored the decisive penalty to give Lyon the victory in the 2013 Coupe de France semifinals against Montpellier. But the match was ultimately replayed after officials confirmed that an earlier penalty taken by Montpellier’s Rumi Utsugi (which would have given the game to Montpellier) was improperly denied by the ref.
And just for good measure, Sarah has also scored in D1F action. In 2015, OL was awarded a penalty in a lopsided match against Albi. Lyon were sitting on a 12-0 lead and it was the 86th minute, so the coach and all-around-hero Gérard Prêcheur called upon the keeper. She scored. Of course.
Cool under pressure. Experience delivering big penalty goals in clutch situations. Her teammates call her Zlatan. And it would be awesome. A dual-threat goal scoring / goal stopping machine.
Make it happen, Coach Pedros.
With big games ahead, Lyon can’t afford uncertainty at the spot. Coach Pedros has an embarrassment of riches at his disposal, but there won’t be much room for trial and error. We’ll be holding our breath.
Who’s your choice to be OL’s go-to shooter? We want to hear from you, so be sure to check out our Twitter page, where we’ll be running a poll to get your take.
Photos via SN Ternay (@SyNTernay)
Appendix: Finals Shootout Charts
(Current OL players in bold)
2017 Champions League Final
|Eugénie Le Sommer||X|
2017 Coupe de France Final
|Eugénie Le Sommer||√|
2016 Champions League Final
2010 Champions League Final