PRAGUE, Czech Republic, June 18 – Zinedine Zidane, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Andrea Pirlo have all done it: instead of blasting a penalty kick into the net, they fool the diving keeper by chipping the ball into the middle of the net.
Forty years have passed since Czechoslovakia’s playmaker Antonin Panenka first displayed the trick at the 1976 European Championship final against Germany. It was a decisive penalty.
The moustached Bohemians Prague and Rapid Vienna star is now 67 and happily watching his cheeky kick keep his name alive.
“I can say that was my most famous moment,” Panenka told AFP at a pub in Nespeky, a village near Prague where he lives and where everyone calls him “Tonda”, the short form of Antonin.
“But I feel a bit sorry when someone says Panenka and everyone starts talking about the penalty,” he added.
While Zidane, Pirlo and Zlatan have all made big money from their talent and fame, Panenka had to stay at the Czechoslovak top-flight side Bohemians until he was 32 and the Communist regime let him try his luck abroad.
“I went to Rapid and nobody knew me there, except because of this penalty,” Panenka said.
All Czechs and Slovaks who saw the Euro 1976 final cherish the memory of German goalkeeper Sepp Maier diving to his left, watching in awe as Panenka chipped the ball in. He then threw his arms up to celebrate Czechoslovakia’s only Euro title.
That was June 20, 1976. Czechoslovakia beat Germany 5-3 in the shootout in Belgrade, following a 2-2 draw after extra time.
Czechoslovakia went on to split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993, four years after shedding its four decades of totalitarian rule.
– Only one penalty –
The trick was created when Panenka practised penalties against Bohemians goalkeeper Zdenek Hruska. He bet small amounts of money, beer or chocolate on his skill to convert five out of five.
“It wasn’t easy against a great keeper like him so it cost me dear,” Panenka said.
In bed at night, Panenka pondered new ways to win back his losses — and then it dawned on him.
“He waited until the last moment and then dived. I thought when I chip the ball he won’t turn back in the air,” Panenka said.
“So I started to try. The good thing was I started to win the bets, but I also started to put on weight.”
Panenka said he executed about 30 chip-in penalties and failed only once, in a small Czech town, against a goalkeeper reluctant to dive into a pool on the goalline.
“I converted three weeks before Belgrade against Ivo Viktor,” the Czechoslovakia goalkeeper, said Panenka.
The trick has drawn scores of followers, including Francesco Totti, Helger Postiga or Sergio Ramos.
“I recently had some TV people from Chile over here, they showed me about 40 such penalty kicks and I had to comment on each of them,” Panenka said.
“Some execute them very well, some very badly. I was surprised to see one who did it even better than me, I think it was a guy from the second league in Argentina.”
Czechoslovak Footballer of the Year 1980, Panenka has a bronze medal from Euro 1980 and he also played at the 1982 World Cup. He scored 17 goals in 59 games for the Czechoslovak national team.
But he feels his most famous moment overshadowed everything else.
“I think my mission in this world was to amuse people with football and that’s what I always tried to do, I scored many times, I made many passes and this all is practically forgotten now.”
True to his jovial spirit, though, Panenka also offers a lighter way of looking at what has by now become a historic achievement.
“Someone says, man, you have converted one penalty and you’re famous. And I say, well, Edison also invented only one bulb.”