International football may not be the bread and butter of the sport but it has often provided football with its most iconic moments. Be it Pele announcing his arrival in 1958 or Diego Maradona’s Hand of God to Roger Milla’s dance and even Zinedine Zidane’s headbutt. Nothing adds more colour to football than its occasional international competition that bring the world together.
While the Fifa World Cup is the world’s biggest footballing festival, the European Championship which is pretty much a World Cup of European nations is not far behind in its contribution to the footballing archives.
A tournament that started thirty years after the first World Cup took some time to come to the boil. Only four teams participated in each of the first five editions but the final one of those in 1976 which was the most competitive European Championship prompted Uefa to go bigger.
With the tournament finals featuring two semi-finals, a third-place playoff and the final, Euro 1976 was the first edition where every match went beyond the regulation 90 minutes. The teams were so evenly matched that it required two hours of football for every match to be settled.
West Germany and Netherlands two teams who had contested the World Cup final two years ago were big favourites along with hosts Yugoslavia who had played in two of the four finals of the previous editions of the European Championships.
But Czechoslovakia, the relative underdogs made their way to the final after beating World Cup runners-up the Netherlands in the semi-final. The reward was a playoff for the title against world champions West Germany.
Coached by Václav Ježek, Czechoslovakia were a tough nut to crack and their mental strength had carried them all the way through. They took a surprise 2-0 lead in the final inside the first 25 minutes, but West Germany showed their class by pulling it back to 2-2. The Germans scored the equaliser in the 89th minute and favourites when extra-time began.
But Czechoslovakia held on to force a first-ever penalty shootout in a major tournament. The Germans have, over the years, aced the tie-breaker but they didn’t begin in an ideal fashion in 1976.
Czechoslovakia were more ready for the lottery, their coach had trained them for it. During training, the coach used to bring in spectators and asked them to whistle and boo the team as they practised the spot-kicks. It helped his players develop great composure when it was needed tho most.
There was no greater evidence of it than in the penalty that clinched Czechoslovakia their first and only major international title. Midfielder Antonin Panenka stepped up after seeing Uli Hoeness miss for West Germany. With the title on the line, most would have opted for power without thinking too much but he had other ideas.
Panenka faked an intense run-up and sent a delicate chip that looped into the goal as the goalkeeper laid beaten and astounded.
The sheer audacity of the penalty to win the championship against the world champions was the worthy deciding factor in an intense final. The world had never seen anything like that before.
“Only a true champion would come up with such a solution,” Franz Beckenbauer, the West Germany captain said after the game.
Panenka also received praise from Pele and the French football association who called him a footballing poet.
His act of genius was borne out of the need to win bets against his teammates at his club Bohemians Praha. After training, Panenka used to stay behind with his goalkeepers to practice penalties. They’d play for a bar of chocolate or a bottle of beer. In an attempt to be unique in his penalties, Panenka thought of this approach so that he could continue to have bragging rights over his teammates. Who knew it would help him in a European Championships final.
“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,” Panenka told Uefa.com.
Ivo Viktor, the Czechoslovakian goalkeeper had seen glimpses of Panenka’s genius from six yards before but he never thought that he would try that in the final. “It still seems a bit cheeky to me, even after so many years,” he said.
Many footballers have since tried to imitate Panenka’s penalty technique. Even the greatest names in modern football have tried to perfect it. Some have succeeded while some have failed. Analysts say that the ‘Panenka penalty’ as it has come to be known since has lesser probability of being successful, but it doesn’t stop the players from attempting it.
Be it Zinedine Zidane in the 2006 Fifa World Cup final or Andrea Pirlo in a Euro penalty shootout, Panenka penalties are very much part of the fabric of modern football. All because of one man – Antonin Panenka, the man who found courage to be creative and cheeky at the most crucial moment.
1976 European championships was a tournament to remember with the Panenka penalty being its crowning glory.
Here are some of the panenka penalties scored by modern footballers
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