A penalty taker approaches the ball and goes for disguise and trickery rather than power or precision. The goalkeeper, more often than not, dives towards either of the posts and can only look in agony as the ball that has been softly chipped by the penalty taker ends up in the back of the net. We all have seen it innumerable times. Antonin Panenka, was the man who invented it in the final of Euro 1976.
Football’s crème de la crème have attempted it and been successful – including the likes of Lionel Messi, Zinedine Zidane, Andrea Pirlo and Sergio Ramos. But where does the origin of this feint lie? When did it become popular? And who was the brains behind such an ingenious move in football?
FootTheBall takes a look at the famed Panenka penalty and the footballer who gave birth to it almost half a century ago.
CZECHOSLOVAKIA AND ANTONIN PANENKA AT UEFA EURO 1976
The 1976 European Championship held in Yugoslavia is, in a sense, the only one its kind. At the continental tournament no match ended merely after the completion of regulation time as teams had to battle it out in extra time to prove their mettle and progress further in the tournament.
Neither had a penalty shootout been the deciding factor between two teams when they were engaged in a deadlock prior to this tournament in international football. So this tournament can be seen as the pioneer of the penalty shootout.
Coming into this tournament, West Germany were firm favourites to win their second consecutive European Championship after lifting their maiden trophy four years ago on home soil. But the irony is that the West Germans played two matches across the tournament (including the final) and only ever were in the lead for a paltry five minutes – in their semi-final with hosts Yugoslavia (that too in extra time).
Cue Czechoslovakia’s entry – the Czechoslovaks were making their first appearance in the continental tournament in over one and a half decades and, as such no one had very high hopes from them going into the business end of the Euros. They were victorious against the Dutch in modern day Croatian capital, Zagreb and booked their place in the showpiece event in Belgrade – where history was going to be scripted by them in their match with the defending champions West Germany
THE UEFA EURO 1976 FINAL – GERMANY LOSES WORLD’S FIRST EVER PENALTY SHOOTOUT
This tournament brought with it a lot of firsts – the first time that the Soviet Union didn’t qualify for the European Championship finals, the first time (and only time till date) that all matches were decided after extra time had been played, the first time that the system of penalty shootouts was introduced at a major international tournament and the only instance of Germany losing a penalty shootout. Fittingly the final went right down to the wire and was decided by a penalty shootout – the first ever to be played out in the history of football.
Czechoslovakia had taken an early two goal lead in the match, but the resilient West Germans came back from behind to restore parity – scoring the second and equalising goal in the 89th minute to send the match into extra time. From then on, no one scored for either of the sides and the first ever penalty shootout in the history of football ensued. The first seven penalty takers converted their respective penalty kicks, but the eighth – Germany and Bayern Munich legend Uli Hoeness – missed from 12 yards.
Enter Antonin Panenka. The then 27-year old Bohemians Praha midfielder etched his name in footballing history by scoring the ‘Panenka’ penalty, hoodwinking Germany’s Sepp Maier into diving to his left as the ball gently ended up in the middle of the goal courtesy of Panenka’s deft finishing ability. Such was the cheek and nerve that Panenka had utilised to seal the title for his country at Euro 1976. In fact a journalist from France Football called Panenka a poet.
PANENKA’S LEGACY FOUR AND A HALF DECADES ON
Today a lot of football players playing at the highest level have executed the move with absolute perfection to delight spectators, fans and pundits alike. Zinedine Zidane scored such a penalty in the 2006 FIFA World Cup final with France, Lionel Messi has scored such penalties numerous times (he has even scored a Panenka free kick) and Andrea Pirlo used the technique in a shootout with England at Euro 2012.
But what does the person who gave his name to this skill has to say about it – “After training [at Bohemians Praha] I used to stay behind 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. 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 and then I started slowly to test it and apply it in practice. As a side effect I started to gain weight – I was winning the bets! In the end, I chose the penalty in the final because I realised that it was the easiest and simplest way of scoring a goal. It’s a simple recipe”.
West Germany’s captain at that time, Franz Beckenbauer called it the mark of a true champion to come up with such a unique solution at one of the grandest stages of football, while three-time World Cup winner Pele famously said of the penalty instance “Anyone who takes a penalty like that must be either a genius or a madman”