Euro 2016

Veteran looks back on cheeky penalty he pioneered

Antonin Panenka, 67, famously used the chip-in penalty to score against Germany at Euro 1976.
Antonin Panenka, 67, famously used the chip-in penalty to score against Germany at Euro 1976.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

PRAGUE • Zinedine Zidane, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Andrea Pirlo have all done it: Instead of blasting a penalty kick into the net, they fool the diving goalkeeper by chipping the ball into the middle of the net.

It has been 40 years since Czechoslovakia's playmaker Antonin Panenka first displayed the trick at the 1976 European Championship final against Germany. It was a decisive penalty.

The 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," he said 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."

While Zidane, Pirlo and Ibrahimovic 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, when the Communist regime finally let him try his luck abroad.

"I went to Rapid and nobody knew me there, except (for) this penalty," he said.

All Czechs and Slovaks who saw the Euro 1976 final cherish the memory of German goalkeeper Sepp Maier diving to his left, while they watched in awe as Panenka chipped the ball in.

He then threw his arms up to celebrate Czechoslovakia's only Euro title.

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 dearly," he said.

In bed at night, he 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 of water on the goal-line.

The trick has drawn scores of followers, including Francesco Totti, Helder Postiga and 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 in 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 while he feels his most famous moment overshadowed everything else, he has a humorous take on its legacy.

"Someone says, 'Man, you have converted one penalty and you're famous.' And I say, 'Well, Edison also invented only one bulb.'"

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 21, 2016, with the headline 'Veteran looks back on cheeky penalty he pioneered'. Print Edition | Subscribe