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The art of taking a penalty



By Chris Whyatt

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Watch Panenka's title-winning penalty here

When the penalty kick was invented by Irishman William McCrum back in 1891, it quickly became known as "the kick of death".

But when Czechoslovakia's Antonin Panenka netted the most audacious spot-kick to win a shoot-out against West Germany in the final of the 1976 European Championship, it breathed new life into the art of taking a penalty.

The sublime beauty of Panenka's effort, chipped right down the middle of the goal, made penalties seem worthy to be considered a fair way of deciding the winner of a match after two hours of stalemate, although fierce debate still rages on.

And it is not too far-fetched to suggest - look away now England fans - that the heartbreak Germany suffered in 1976 set them on the road to penalty shoot-out domination for decades to come.

Now president of Prague club Bohemians 1905, Panenka told BBC Sport the secrets behind his landmark penalty - described by some as "poetry" - and his thoughts on the psychology of the shoot-out.


What were your thoughts just before taking the penalty against West Germany in that final of 1976?

I was very relaxed - I felt an enormous positive euphoria.

606: DEBATE
CW

It didn't really matter to us at that point whether we'd win or not because I think that our fans were already very happy at what we had achieved by then.

Winning the final was a bonus.

We were all very relaxed. We were seen as outsiders and no-one thought we could manage it and then we surprised everyone.

Psychologically, we were in much better shape than the Germans.


The technique you used was very unusual, even pioneering, at the time. Where did you get the idea to take a penalty in that style?

I came up with the idea two years before the championship and had been practising that particular penalty kick from that point on.

I realised that the goalkeeper would never remain still, I knew he would jump either to the left or right.

I went for different tactics and simply chose to chip the ball straight down the middle because, once the keeper jumps, he can never come back.

I started practising during our training sessions and also during some Czech league matches.

Taking the last penalty at the European Championship was the icing on the cake.

For me, it was the easiest and simplest way of scoring that goal because at that time, no-one was familiar with this particular style of penalty kick.

No-one expected it, which made the success rate very high.


It was also brave. Did you fear making a mess of it or the goalkeeper making a simple catch?

Antonin Panenka
Legend Panenka is revered throughout the Czech Republic

No no, absolutely not. I was convinced - not 100% but 1,000% - that I would convert that penalty kick. I knew it would work.

I was not scared - on the contrary, the sheer cheek of the goal made me feel quite happy because the pressure was on me to step up and I decided to end the final this way.

It was all very, very simple.

Here, in Czechoslovakia, I had made no secret of the fact that I wanted to take the penalty in this way.

All the other players in the team and our coaches were fully aware of my plan and they all agreed. There was no problem.


What do you think of the style in which penalties are taken these days? Do you think penalty shoot-outs are a fair way of deciding a match?

I am not really sure how to answer this question. Tied matches need to be decided one way or the other, and there must be a way of achieving this.

So far, penalty shoot-outs have been used - when or if someone clever comes up with something more interesting, something the players will find more alluring or psychologically more demanding, perhaps we can change the current system.

But tied matches need to be decided and I still think that penalty shoot-outs are better than, for example, selecting the winner randomly - by flipping a coin or drawing lots.


Do you think penalties are more about technique or psychology?

I think that penalty shoot-outs are more about psychology than technique.

I know that some players focus on practising penalty kicks during training sessions.

They can convert as many kicks as they want but when it comes to taking a penalty during a match, they often balloon their shots over the bar.

This clearly shows that psychology plays a very important part in this.

But one thing is clear - nowadays, it's a lot harder for players to convert a penalty.

Because at that time, the goalkeeper was not allowed to move, he had to stand still on the line and could only move when the ball was in the air.

Now, the situation is different, the keeper is free to move as much as he wants and this can make the players very, very nervous or make them lose focus.


Antonin Panenka was talking to the BBC's Simona Kralova.


see also
Fear factor kills penalty chances
05 Jun 08 |  Euro 2008
Terry 'haunted' by penalty miss
25 May 08 |  Chelsea
Ronaldo shrugs off penalty miss
22 May 08 |  Football
England beaten on penalties again
01 Jul 06 |  World Cup 2006
Taking the perfect penalty
30 Aug 05 |  Skills
Portugal break England hearts
24 Jun 04 |  Euro 2004


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