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January 29, 2013

The birth of the Panenka

Guest contribution by Didier Braun, the living memory of France’s great sports daily L’Equipe. Didier is the author of the daily column La lucarne’ and, more recently, of the wonderful book Mon armoire à maillots (‘My Cupboard full with Football Jerseys’), which will be worth a blog post in its own right. During Euro 2012 he wrote a memory piece about each of the 16 participating teams. The article below, published in the 12 June issue, was one of them. It echoes Borja García’s ‘deconstruction’ blogpost of April, completing it in a nice way.

1976, BELGRADE. – Like all legends, the legend of football is often written and embellished long after the facts. Today, the ‘panenka’ is part of the legendary narrative of the European Championship.

What is it? It is this cheeky, impertinent way of shooting a penalty whose finest technical description was given by Jean-Philippe Réthacker in France Football, on the day after a Euro 1980 qualifier between Czechoslovakia and France (2-0, on 4 April 1979), where Antonín Panenka fooled Dominique Dropsy this way that consists in

‘darting very quickly towards the ball, letting people expect a strong shot, stopping brutally when transferring weight onto the back foot, hooking the ball with a spoon-like shot, and using a sort of lob, whose slow, swirling trajectory completely fools the opposite goalkeeper’.

In this article, Réthacker was not referring to a ‘panenka’, but to a ‘dead leave’, an old stock phrase formerly used to illustrate the free kicks of Brasilian Didi and, further back in time, the French international player of Austrian descent, Henri Hiltl.

Belgrade, 20 June 1976. Sepp Maier has not forgotten.

It is in this way that Panenka, in the Belgrade final of the 1976 European Championship gave Czechoslovakia the title against the great team of the Federal Republic of Germany, master of the world since 1974 and holder of the European title since 1972. This was the first time that a major international victory was won on penalty shoot-outs (2-2, 5-3 on shootouts). Panenka was also the last player to take a shot. The great Sepp Maier has not forgotten.

But very few people talked about this novel technique on the spot. This was 1976, not 2012, when any prank is looped on TV, echoed by millions of clicks on the web, copied, pasted, tweeted, ‘youTubed’.

The first edition of L’Équipe on the day after was silent: the late end of the game was not reported because of the then early deadline for printing. One would later be able to read that Panenka ‘successfully accomplished a technical masterpiece, putting Maier on the wrong foot, full of finesse, the ball going to die slowly in the left corner.’ Concerning the French television audience, it was unable to have the slightest memory of it for the simple reason that the game was not broadcast…

In its comments on the final, L’Équipe passed a severe judgement on this television boycott. Its reporters did not skimp on adjectives to make the television channel regret their decision. It is true that the quality of the opposition between the Germans led by Franz Beckenbauer – it was his last final – and the Czech – and Slovaks – led by Ivo Viktor, this goalkeeper so admirably placed in the limelight by Pelé during the Mundial 1970, was indeed sublime, written in a splendid rhythm. It could not be reduced to this technical anecdote, to this ‘panenka’, which was not called by this name yet and which later inspired so many imitators, some lucky, some not, from Totti to Zidane, from Cantona to Landreau, from Ribéry to Hazard.

And Panenka himself? He would like people to talk to him about the Czech feat of 1976 without harping on about this penalty creation. This was only a little game, after all: he had simply elaborated this penalty of his own when, on the training pitch of the Prague Bohemians, his club, he wanted to finally have a chance to win beers and chocolate during his end-of-training bets with the international goalkeeper of the team Zdeněk Hruška. The latter would deserve to be associated with his friend’s invention.

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