Eternal sunshine of the spotless kick


The penalty poet: Legendary Czech midfielder Antonin Panenka is now 72. — AFP

IF you dare, try a “Panenka”.

Only the most supremely confident players would respond to that challenge, without being left in a spot.

For the uninitiated, the Panenka is a ballsy style of penalty taking where a player tricks the keeper into diving to the left or right before delicately chipping the ball to let it fall gently into the centre.

When it’s perfectly executed on the biggest stage, it becomes a poetic moment in the Beautiful Game.

Think Zinedine Zidane in the 2006 World Cup final, when the French maestro audaciously tricked Italy’s goalkeeping great Gianluigi Buffon.

Or how Italy’s midfield wizard Andrea Pirlo showed nerves of steel to fool keeper Joe Hart in England’s hard-to-get-over Euro 2012 quarter-final shootout loss.

Spain’s Sergio Ramos and Italy’s Francesco Totti have also done the Panenka with success in nail-biting shootouts in Euro 2008 and 2000 respectively.

It’s amazing how this old yet trendy trick still has the magic of looking novel today, after Czech midfielder Antonin Panenka authored it in the Euro 1976 final against West Germany on June 20.

A SHOOTOUT STAR IS BORN

Nobody saw it coming, given the magnitude and pressure-cooker atmosphere of the occasion.

It was after extra time, and the Germans and Czechs were deadlocked at 2–2. The first-ever penalty shootout in a European Championship final ensued.

The first seven spot-kicks were all converted until West Germany’s fourth penalty taker, Uli Hoeness, ballooned his attempt.

With the score at 4–3, Panenka stepped up to take the fifth kick.

 A picture combo showing Italy’s Andrea Pirlo scoring with a ‘Panenka’ past England goalkeeper Joe Hart in their Euro 2012 quarter-final shootout. A picture combo showing Italy’s Andrea Pirlo scoring with a ‘Panenka’ past England goalkeeper Joe Hart in their Euro 2012 quarter-final shootout.

He feigned placing the ball to the side, causing German goalkeeper Sepp Maier to dive to his left, before delightfully chipping the ball into the middle of the net.

Humiliated, the legendary custodian helplessly waved his right arm as the ball floated past him.

The Czechs were in ecstasy, as what would go on to be remembered as the greatest penalty of all time had won them Europe’s holy grail.

A proud Panenka said: “I was one thousand per cent certain that I would take the penalty that way, and that I would score.

“If it were patentable, I’d have it patented.”

The Germans ought to be thankful to him too. After this heart-breaking lesson, West Germany or the Germany of today have never lost a penalty shootout in either the Euro or the World Cup!

HOW ABOUT A PANENKA AT EURO 2020?

Panenka is 72 now, but he still gets a thrill when he sees or hears his name mentioned after a player scores in a major competition using his technique.

With the Czech Republic among the dark horses at this year’s tournament, he will no doubt be watching the action in the comfort of his home.

Will there be another tribute to his stroke of genius?

Who knows, there may even be one in a shootout deciding the champions at Wembley on July 11. Now that would be a spot-on homage.

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