Top football players have brains that are wired to anticipate the moves of their opponents, scientists have discovered.
The research may explain why stars such as Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo are so good at intercepting the ball.
It suggests players develop a mental ability to read deceptive moves, and that other players can learn the skill through brain training.
Scientists put 39 footballers in an MRI brain scanner while watching clips of an opposing team member dribbling the ball towards them.
When the oncoming player performed a deceptive manoeuvre, participants had to decide in which direction to move, while their brain activity was monitored.
There was clear evidence of greater brain recognition of opponents' movements among the more skilful and experienced players.
Brunel University's Dr Daniel Bishop, who led the research, said:
Our neuroimaging data clearly shows greater activation of motor and related structures in the brains of expert footballers, compared to novices, when taking part in a football-related anticipation task.
We believe that this greater level of neural activity is something that can be developed through high quality training, so the next step will be to look at how the brain can be trained over time to anticipate the moves of opponents.