The Panenka: the origins of the most legendary penalty technique

On this day 47 years ago, Czechoslovakia secured the 1976 European Championships thanks to the most audacious spot-kick ever seen. From this point, penalty shootouts were never the same due to the possibility of players daring to pull off a “Panenka”.

A pulsating Euro 1976 showpiece between West Germany and Czechoslovakia ultimately came down to the wire.

The Czechs raced into a 2-0 lead within the first 30 minutes. Forward Jan Svehlik put his country ahead after just eight minutes, with midfielder Karol Dobias doubling their advantage soon after. However, West Germany – with the legendary Franz Beckenbauer as captain – made the match 2-1 before the break.

The World Cup holders then denied Czechoslovakia from a win in normal time thanks to an equaliser at the death. Forward Bernd Holzenbein made the Final 2-2 in the 89th minute, forcing extra time.

An additional 30 minutes proved futile in its attempts to find a winner of Euro 1976. As a result, the first-ever European Championships Final penalty shootout was needed.

Between them, the two sides successfully converted seven-straight spot-kicks to start the shootout. Czechoslovakia had a 4-3 advantage, then Uli Hoeneß skied his pen over the bar. This presented Antonin Panenka with the opportunity to secure the trophy for his country.

The iconic moment that immortalised a penalty

Unbelievably, Panenka absorbed all the pressure of the situation and produced a now legendary penalty. He pretended to strike the ball to the side of the keeper, causing Sepp Maier to dive. However, rather than placing his shot, the midfielder carefully chipped the ball into the back of the net.

Panenka’s incredible composure and audacity delivered the European Championships to Czechoslovakia. Millions of footballers across the globe have since copied his outrageous penalty style, which went on to carry his name in his honour.

The man himself said that he is fortunate that his name is mentioned whenever a chipped penalty occurs.

“I have an advantage in my name,” said Panenka, via Radio Prague International. “Panenka is pronounced the same way in all languages, so people remember it well.

“I must admit I never thought that my penalty from the European Championship Final would become so famous. I definitely didn’t kick it that way for that reason.”

What makes the Panenka so special?

A truly devastating technique, “the Panenka” penalty is a high-risk, high-reward style. Players need tremendous confidence to pull it off; the belief that the goalkeeper will dive, and the nonchalance to shake it off should the attempt fail.

However, if a star can successfully score a penalty using the Panenka, it makes for an awesome, highlight play.

This gentle technique is tough, as the lack of power means that if the goalie reads it, they have an easy save. Despite this threat, legends of the game have delivered a Panenka penalty in some huge moments.

Some of the most iconic penalties in recent memory

One that immediately comes to mind is Andrea Pirlo’s sublime clipped penalty at Euro 2012. During a quarter-final shootout, Pirlo read an over-excited Joe Hart like a book. The Italian calmly chipped the ball straight down the middle as Hart helplessly dived across to his left.

A few years before this, Zinedine Zidane showed the ultimate level of confidence by pulling off a Panenka in the 2006 World Cup Final. “Zizou” lofted in a spot-kick (via the crossbar, incredibly) to put France 1-0 up in the showpiece game.

Sadly, Les Bleus lost the final, ironically via pens, with Zidane unable to take one after a red card.

Even recently, we have seen multiple stars test their mettle using the ballsy shot. Karim Benzema put one over Ederson during the 2022 Champions League semi-final between Man City and Real Madrid, for example.

A few months later, Achraf Hakimi sent Morocco to their first-ever World Cup quarterfinal with a composed Panenka, too.

Put simply, there are few actions in football that are more ice-cool than a Panenka penalty. And for that, we say thank you to the innovator, Antonin, for his brilliant ingenuity.

Featured image credit: Getty