The Ali Shuffle. The Cruyff Turn. The Panenka Penalty. It takes eye-popping chutzpah to immortalise yourself in history’s sporting lexicon, let alone at the biggest moment in your career – but Antonin Panenka had it.
Panenka was a very 1970s midfielder. If he had been English, he’d probably have been grudgingly awarded a couple of caps and featured in one of those £1 DVDs called Mavericks alongside the late, great Frank Worthington. Czechoslovakia, however, made better use of those gifts, and they knocked out England to qualify for the four-team finals of Euro 76.
The Czechoslovakians were massive underdogs in both the semi-final and final, but they were also largely unknown, with secret weapons. The Netherlands and West Germany, meanwhile, were recent World Cup finalists. Panenka set the tone against the gifted but volatile Dutch: his free-kick set up Anton Ondrus’ opener and the Oranje eventually imploded, having two sent off as they lost 3-1.
It was no fluke. The buoyant Czechoslovaks then scored two against West Germany in the final, only to be pegged back. It was time for the tournament’s first-ever penalty shoot-out.
The kick that eventually took Panenka’s name wasn’t just a moment of sublime sass but a long-concocted plan; a question of probabilities. Panenka practised on his club keeper after training, betting booze and chocolate.
“I started to gain weight,” Panenka later recalled with a grin, “because I was winning the bets.”
Still, the national keeper Ivo Viktor was vehemently against this calculated gamble – but no dice. Czechoslovakia got ahead, Panenka stepped up fifth – Franz Beckenbauer was next for Germany – and, at this time of all times, chipped the winner past a staggered Sepp Maier. The legend was born.
He had a good Euro 80, too. Czechoslovakia finished third after beating Greece 3-1 – Panenka scored a free-kick – and then Italy. A tight game finished 1-1 before another penalty epic, which finished 9-8. Panenka again went fifth. Well, why change a winning formula? This time, though, he stuck it in the corner. Well, you have to keep them guessing...
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