Zinedine Zidane had the bottle for one in the World Cup final, and Adrea Pirlo invited England ‘keeper Joe Hart to sample the delights of another during the 2012 European Championships; although, by all accounts it left a pretty bad taste in the mouth of Manchester City stopper. Peter Crouch even passed his over the top of the bar. A Panenka isn’t about strength, more correctly it’s about finesse, but you’re certainly brave if you fancy one! No, it’s not another obscure brew of Pilsner lager from eastern Europe. It was created in what is now the Czech Republic and does have a bit of a ‘kick’ to it, however. Oh yes, and its creation does owe something to a glass of beer.
If you’re still not sure what it is – and I’ll bet you are really, because if you’re interested in football you’ll know, and if you’re not, you probably wouldn’t be reading this anyway – you may pretty soon be able to look it up in the Collins Dictionary. It’s been submitted for entry into that august tome so I’ll let the proposed definition explain. “Panenka (noun) In Soccer a penalty kick delicately chipped into the back of the net once the goalkeeper has prematurely dived to one side of the goal. [named after Czech footballer Antonin Panenka]”. Yep, that’s it, in a phrase. I’m not sure if it will be accepted by Collins, but alongside the ‘Cruyff Turn’ and the ‘Makelele Role’ Antoin Panenka is one of the very few players whose name has certainly made it into lexicon of football.
Antonin Panenka was a relatively unknown midfielder plying his trade with Bohemians Prague when he traveled as part of the Czechoslovak squad to the 1976 European Championships held in Yugoslavia. Although his fame would grow afterwards, at that stage he certainly wouldn’t have been a ‘must have’ for any Panini Sticker enthusiasts, as the nascent craze was taking hold then. These were those innocent days before huge tournaments became the television-funded events of the present day. Indeed, it would probably be a bit of a misnomer to call it a tournament at all. It merely comprised two semi-finals, a third place play-off, and then the final itself. Together with Panenka’s team and the hosts, West Germany and the Netherlands made up the quartet. Both semi-finals went to extra time before the Germans eliminated the hosts and Czechoslovakia defeated the Netherlands to set up the final.
The match took place on June 20, and as the game kicked off, no-one would have suspected what would later be revealed to the watching world. As a not-so-callow youth, I remember watching the game. The Germans had won the World Cup a couple of years earlier on their own turf, beating the Cruyff-inspired Dutch team. So, along with most other English fans watching I guess, we all wanted the Czechs to produce a bit of a surprise. They did – and how!
After leading twice, the Czechs were finally pegged back for the second time in the last couple of minutes as Holzenbein netted to force yet another period of extra time. The half hour brought no further scoring and the game went to penalties. The Czechs went first and converted their first three spot-kicks, with the Germans replying in equal measure. Then, after Jurkemik added the fourth successful penalty for the Czechs, Uli Hoeness of Bayern Munich fame stepped up. Finding the pressure a little taxing, shall we say, he failed to score. It meant that now, it was all up to Panenka to net the last kick and take the trophy back to Czechoslovakia to secure the first major international football honour in the country’s history. So, no pressure then.
Facing legendary German goalkeeper, Sepp Maier, Panenka calmly strolled up and, as Maier gambled on his idea of where the ball was going and plunged to his left, gently clipped the ball down the middle, and into the gaping net. It was one of those ‘in slow motion’ moments when everything seems to stop for a second or two. The ball gently arced its way into the goal as Maier looked on, helpless and aghast. I remember not being sure if he had miskicked it, but watching it a couple of times over again, it clearly was a planned move. Quoted on a UEFA website, Panenka relates he had a bit of sympathy for Maier, saying that “I suspect that he doesn’t like the sound of my name too much. I never wished to make him look ridiculous.” He went on to say that it wasn’t bravado or arrogance, “On the contrary, I chose the penalty because I saw and realised it was the easiest and simplest recipe for scoring a goal. It is a simple recipe.”
It may have been simple to Panenka, but to an unknowing audience it was the most extravagant piece of skill in a high pressure international game that many could remember, or have witnessed since. The simple fact however is that for the player himself, it was nothing new. Whilst at Bohemians, after training, Panenka would practise penalties against the club’s goalkeeper Zdeněk Hruška. In order to make it interesting, they would bet a bar of chocolate or a glass of beer on the outcome. Hruška was an accomplished performer and often won, causing his teammate to think of a way to turn the odds more in his favour. Lying awake one night, he realised that a goalkeeper always waits until just before the last moment before the ball is struck to try and anticipate the direction of the shot. At the next training session, he decided to try feinting to shoot in order to induce the goalkeeper to dive, and then clipping the ball down the middle. To quote the man himself, “It worked like a charm.” There was a slight downside however, with the goalkeeper now often losing the bet. Panenka remembers that he “started getting a lot fatter because I won back all those beers and chocolates.” The Panenka was born!
It’s often said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If that’s true, there have been a lot of players flattering that previously little-known midfielder in the years since June 20, 1976. Some of the world’s best players have added a Panenka, almost as a badge of honour, to their portfolio of goals. Indulging in such an extravagance when the stakes are at their highest is probably the biggest compliment paid to the originator however.
Reprising the the trick in the same tournament as it was created, the then Tottenham Hotspur striker, Helda Postiga carried host nation Portugal’s hopes and prayers on his shoulders as he approached a penalty shootout kick, trailing 5-4 to England in a sudden death situation. Plunging into a dive, England ‘keeper David James gambled on glory. He lost, as a Panenka floated gently into the middle of the goal. Two spot kicks later, England were eliminated.
In the 2006 World Cup final Zinedine Zidane used his head, pulling a Panenka out of his pocket, when he netted a penalty to put France ahead against Italy. The shot showed how narrow the margins of error are though in the execution. His effort clipped the underside of the bar before bouncing across the line. Zidane was later sent off for using his head in an entirely different way with Marco Materazzi. Ironically France lost the final on penalties. The red-carded Zizou was not there to take one.
Six years later, Andea Pirlo was faced with a penalty shoot-out problem in a quarter-final against England. The previous Italian taker, Montolivo had missed, and the Azzuri were in trouble. Famously, or should that be infamously, Joe Hart attempted to put the experienced Pirlo off his game by talking and pulling faces at the midfielder. Allowing his feet to do his talking, Pirlo decided the Panenka would be a suitable response. Hart was floored. Pirlo scored. Minutes later England were eliminated.
England have suffered more than once at the hands of a Panenka, but something along the lines of “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” may have been in Peter Crouch’s mind as he lined up a spot kick at Old Trafford in 2006. In a pre-tournament warm up game before the World Cup in Germany, England were playing Jamaica and comfortably strolling at 5-0 up. Crouch had netted twice, and when a late penalty was awarded to the Three Lions, up stepped the big striker to claim his hat-trick. A Panenka would put a perfect gloss on the evening. Embarrassingly however, Crouch erred too far on the margins. Where Zidane had won out after hitting the underside of the bar, Crouch clipped his Panenka up and over. A few minutes later however, his pride was saved as he scored a third goal and walked away with the match ball. To Panenka or not to Panenka is often the question. Sometimes, it’s just not the right answer!
It’s unlikely that Didier Drogba would have had Crouch’s embarrassment in mind as he walked from the centre circle to confront Manuel Neuer in a shoot-out. It was the final of the 2012 Champions League and with what might be the final kick of the game the Ivorian could break Bavarians hearts in the Allianz and make Chelsea European Champions. In an ITV documentary screened last December, Drogba relived his thoughts on the long walk. “I was thinking, okay, okay, now it is my turn, what do I do?” he said. “The goalkeeper has gone everywhere we shoot everywhere, every time we take a long run he goes in the right direction, so I decided to do a Panenka. I thought Okay, Panenka. No, no, no, no, Panenka. But I decided to take a two-step then I will not give the goalkeeper any time to read my run and I will see where he’s going. So, after my first step I could see he had already gone on my right. I put the ball on the left and then I think that was it.” Who can say how Chelsea’s fate would have turned on that May evening, if Drogba had opted for the Panenka instead.
Antonin Panenka’a penalty was all about innovation, and of course in football, nothing stands still. If you get an opportunity, have a search on YouTube for the free-kick scored by Benfica’s Agentine forward Nicolas Gaitan in a Europa League game against PAOK back in February. In a show of confidence, Gaitan produces a Panenka-like free kick from just outside the area, brilliantly floating the ball over the defensive wall to put his side ahead. Son of Panenka?
After helping his country win the 1976 European Championships – and changing the game forever Antonin Panenka returned to the tournament in 1980 to help Czechoslovakia into third place after scoring a penalty – of course – in a 9-8 shoot-out win. Then, in the World Cup two years later he scored a further two penalties, but these were the only goals his country recorded and the Czechs were eliminated in the group stages. In his club career, he left Bohemians in 1981. Moving to Rapid Vienna where he won two league titles and an Austrian Cup. The club also progressed to the final of the Cup Winners Cup the following year. Panenka played as a substitute but couldn’t help his team avoid a 3-1 defeat to Everton. Later in 1985 he left the Austrian club and played out a career with lower clubs until his retirement in 1989.
Lost in the minutiae of so many players, but for one kick of a ball on a hot June evening back in 1976, and a bet over a glass of beer, the details of Antonin Panenka’s career would probably have escaped the attentions of even the most assiduous of football ‘anoraks.’ As it is however, his name will live for an awful long time, and who knows, one day it may even be in the Collins dictionary. Fame in all its glory, and that’s no penalty.
(This All Blue Daze article was originally produced for the ‘offsiderulepodcast’ website).