A Panenka. Just two words, but enough for any football fan worth his or her salt to immediately know what you’re talking about. The dinked penalty down the centre of the goal has been mimicked many a time, successfully (Zinedine Zidane, 2002) and unsuccessfully (Gary Lineker, 1992), and twice notably at the last Euros by Andrea Pirlo and Sergio Ramos.
But none of the imitations came in circumstances as dramatic as the original, none changed the way the penalties were viewed as a viable means to settle a game and none, seemingly, made Germans so angry that they’d never miss a penalty ever again.
Rolled out gradually in the early ’70s, shootouts had decided club matches but never a major international tournament until 1976, when Czechoslovakia and West Germany couldn’t be separated after 90 minutes plus extra time.
Calm during the storm
Having made it 2-2 in the 89th minute, the world champions should have been more buoyant heading into the shootout and, indeed, despite his heroics keeping Czechoslovakia in the game, goalkeeper Ivo Viktor could do little about the first three German spotkicks. But the underdogs were equally confident from 12 yards, dispatching their first four with aplomb. And when Uli Hoeness blazed his team’s fourth over the crossbar, all eyes were on Panenka. No pressure, mate. So why, instead of being wracked with nerves, was his head filled with a feeling of “enormous positive euphoria”?
“I came up with the idea two years before the Championship and had been practising that particular penalty kick from that point on,” he later explained. “After each training session I used to stay behind after a game with our goalkeeper and take penalties – we would play for a bar of chocolate or a glass of beer. Since he was a very good goalkeeper it became an expensive proposition for me. So, sometimes before going to sleep I tried to think of ways of getting the better of him, to recoup my losses.
“I got the idea that if I delayed the kick and just lightly chipped it, a goalkeeper who dived to the corner of the goal could not jump back up into the air, and this became the basis of my philosophy. I started slowly to test it and apply it in practice.
“As a side effect I started to gain weight, because I was winning the bets. I started to use it in friendlies, in minor leagues, and eventually I perfected it so I used it in the main league as well. The culmination was when I used it at the European Championship.”
Poetry in motion
Against the world’s best goalkeeper, no less. “I don’t think Sepp Maier took it very well,” admitted Panenka, whose dink left the giant German looking up to his right, grasping at thin air.
“He was, and perhaps still is, somewhat discomfited – I suspect he probably doesn't like the sound of my name too much. I never wished to make him look ridiculous, though. I am not aware of anyone who would be able to make fun of someone when the European Championship is at stake. On the contrary, I chose the penalty because I realised that it was the easiest and simplest way of scoring a goal.”
Simple? Panenka’s combination of technique and nerve led a French journalist watching in Belgrade to dub him “a poet”. If this was his moment, though, 1980 was his tournament. He was named Czechoslovakia Footballer of the Year off the back of his performances, which helped his team prove they were no one-hit wonders by finishing third. Faced with another great goalkeeper in the third-place play-off shootout, Panenka dispatched his penalty by more conventional means, sending Dino Zoff the wrong way as the hosts were eventually beaten 9-8.
He bowed out of international football by scoring Czechoslovakia’s only two goals at the 1982 World Cup, where they failed to make it beyond the first group stage. Fittingly, both were penalties. But there can only be one Panenka.
Panenka scores the most famous penalty in history
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