During the 1976 European Championship Finals, a 5ft 10 in Czechoslovakian player Antonin Panenka looked unperturbed as he fired the decisive penalty kick into the German goalpost. The finely chipped ball pierced right through the heart of the opposition post when goalie Sepp Maier dived to his left, as if under some spell. The brazen, yet calculated goal made a French journalist then dub Antonín Panenka a poet, and the player became a bit of a cult hero with the classic kick being named after him.
Yesterday, against England in the quarterfinals of UEFA Euro Championship, Italian midfielder Andrea Pirlo successfully reenacted the footie bard's cheeky penalty, displaying nerves of steel at the taut, decisive shootout moment, fooling England's goalie Joe Hart. For Pirlo, who played a pivotal role in pinning down the Englishmen (apparently he ran 11.58 km, more than any English player, according to UEFA), this was an icing on the cake. With the media going berserk about Pirlo's sensational, most nerveless winner of the match
; it’s hard to stay indubious about reliability of this 'Panenka Penalty'.
Way-back then, Panenka was so certain about his manoeuvre that made him trust his instincts "one thousand percent", in his own words. After all, it wasn't an off-the-cuff attempt by the player. Panenka had contemplated long enough to come up with a strategic ploy to beat his club Bohemians Praha's goalie Zdeněk Hruška during the practice sessions . In his own words:
"I ended up lying awake at night thinking about how I could get the upper hand. I eventually realised that the goalkeeper always waits until just before the last moment to try and anticipate where the ball is going and dives just before it's kicked so he can reach the shot in time. I decided that it was probably easier to score by feinting to shoot and then just gently tapping the ball into the middle of the goal." (Courtesy: Wikipedia)
But for Pirlo, the 'Panenka Penalty' hasn't been a foolproof gambit. He gravely went wrong once for AC Milan during the 2010 Joan Gamper Cup final against Barcelona. The pert attempt then had a goofy outcome as the ball went straight to the hands of Barca goalie Pinto. Watch the video here
Nevertheless, that doesn't take the beauty off Pirlo's astounding shot. It was indeed ravishing; and the element of 'luck' largely owed to Hart's lapse in acumen. It was phenomenal by all means and definitely not a fluke. Pirlo did 'hypnotise' Hart, and was able to manipulate his discretion. If Hart had been prudent enough, it would have been a different story. Still, all the ifs and buts don't matter in sport; and history will favour only the vanquisher.
A look at best and worst Panenka penalties of football history