Penalties. Love them or hate them, there’s just no denying that they have produced some of the most magical moments that world football has ever seen.

While on the surface, it may seem easy to slot a ball in from 12 yards out, there’s so much more at work there. There’s the pressure of expectation that can feel like the weight of the world on your shoulders. How players manage this, is what separates the good from the great.

The year? 1976. The stage? The European Championship final against reigning champions West Germany.

Antonín Panenka stepped up to take the deciding penalty. Any other player would’ve played it safe and rolled it into a corner of the net, but not Panenka. He ran up to the ball, and unnervingly dinked the ball down the middle, where the goalkeeper was standing just two seconds ago.

The crowd went crazy, and little did Panenka know that he had carved a niche for himself in footballing folklore forever. Brazil legend Pele called him ‘either a madman, or a genius!’   

Watch the highlights from the final in Belgrade where a memorable penalty by Antonín Panenka sealed a shootout victory for Czechoslovakia against defending champions West Germany. (Video via Uefa.tv on Youtube)

On further investigation, Panenka revealed that he had practiced and perfected the technique, and that it was not a last-minute decision.

Back home, after practice sessions with his club Bohemians Praha, Panenka would stay back with goalie Zdenek Hruska, and practice his penalties with a friendly bet of beer, or a meal.

After losing a few bets, he was left wondering what to do. Necessity is the mother of invention after all, and lo and behold, the Panenka was born.

The technique is not trying to chip the goalkeeper. It is based on the assumption that the goalie will pick a side and make his move, thereby leaving the center of the goal unguarded.

However, if the ball is given too much pace, the goalie can save it with his feet. A gentle dink is therefore the best way to go.

It takes a certain degree of calmness, or even indifference if you will, to even try something this audacious. If it comes off, you’re the hero. If it doesn’t, you come off looking foolish.

A recent victim of the latter is Dortmund Striker, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who was left red faced after the goalie stayed central, making a simple save.

When it does come off though, it leaves the crowd breathless. A prime example of this is the penalty that Zidane took at the 2006 FIFA World cup final. The stakes were as high as they could have ever been.

Zidane however, was unperturbed. It was a ‘Hold my beer moment’ as he walked up and knocked it straight down the middle, making Buffon a mere spectator.

Cool as a cucumber. Zidane with a successful Panenka against a keeper at the peak of his powers.

“The potential impact of a Panenka – particularly in a penalty shoot-out – has a greater value than just the goal it results in. A handy side effect is a damning psychological impact on the opposition – an impact that is all the greater when used in a shoot-out. A successful Panenka is frequently followed by a miss for the opposition.

Witness Andrea Pirlo’s effort in the Euro 2012 quarter-final shoot-out against England. England had been leading at the time, but Pirlo’s dink shifted the momentum of the shoot-out utterly. Ashley Young was next up, missed, and the rest is history. It was the same the night before when Sergio Ramos scored his Panenka effort in the Spain-Portugal match, leaving Bruno Alves to miss the subsequent shot.” 

The Panenka has gone on to become a symbol of composure under pressure. While some may call it frivolous, or unnecessary, it is a ‘necessary evil’ that will continue to provide us with enthralling moments for a long time to come.


Feature Image via These Football Times

Antonín Panenka video via Uefa.tv on Youtube

Zidane Panenka image via France Football

Quote from Aidan William’s “ANTONÍN PANENKA AND THE GREATEST PENALTY OF ALL TIME” article on These Football Times





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