The cult of the Panenka penalty
© AFP

When Andrea Pirlo struck his delicately chipped penalty for Italy against England, he was aping one of the UEFA European Championship’s greatest-ever moments. The technique may now be a common feature of the game but it dates back to Antonin Panenka’s penalty in the 1976 final, which has left an indelible mark on football.

Seen as one of the game's most self-assured acts on the field, with the spot-kick nonchalantly lobbed down the middle of the goal, a Panenka my not take too much skill, but the nerve required is unrivalled. FIFA.com looks back at some of those who have successfully, and unsuccessfully, followed in the great man's footsteps.

A style is born
The method exploded into the public consciousness in a game in which the pressure couldn’t have been much higher. After Czechoslovakia had played out a 2-2 draw with Germany in the climax of the ’76 tournament, Panenka stepped up in the resulting penalty shoot-out with the chance to win their first ever major title.

Facing Sepp Maier, the midfielder strolled up and delicately floated the ball down the middle of the goal, with the German diving away to his left. “I suspect that he doesn’t like the sound of my name too much. I never wished to make him look ridiculous,” Panenka told UEFA.com.

“On the contrary, I chose the penalty because I saw and realised it was the easiest and simplest recipe for scoring a goal. It is a simple recipe.”

It was the work of “either a genius or a madman” according to Pele, but as Pirlo showed, it has spawned a cult following and the cheeky chip has reared its head in some huge games since its mainstream debut over 35 years ago.

I chose the penalty because I saw and realised it was the easiest and simplest recipe for scoring a goal. It is a simple recipe.
Antonin Panenka on why he chose to chip his penalty past Sepp Maier

The biggest stage it has appeared on since then is undoubtedly the 2006 FIFA World Cup™ Final, when the irrepressible Zinedine Zidane took the technique as close as possible to perfection. The final between France and Italy was just six minutes old when the Real Madrid man had the chance to open the scoring from the spot.

With his usual swagger, Zizou stepped up to effortlessly loft the ball over Gianluigi Buffon and clip the underside of the crossbar. The ball bounced a foot over the line, putting the French ahead, and encapsulated the Algerian-born playmaker’s knack for both style and substance in his final game.

Panenka preference
Zidane is undoubtedly on the ‘genius’ side of Pele’s assessment, but with a nickname like El Loco, Uruguayan forward Sebastian Abreu could arguably fall into the latter category when he produced a Panenka of his own four years later in South Africa.

After a 1-1 draw with Ghana, Uruguay were just one spot-kick away from their first semi-final in 40 years. The technique is built on the assumption that, more often than not, the goalkeeper will dive out of the way and, luckily for Abreu, Richard Kingson did just that to see them into the final four.

However Abreu, who has made a habit of producing a Panenka, scoring two in the same game for Botafogo against Flamengo and another against Brazil in the 2007 Copa America semi-final, feels he deserves the same recognition as Zidane received.

"What word did you use to describe Zidane’s penalty?” asked the veteran striker. “Crazy? No, magical. So why not Abreu? Those are the decisions you have to take. And at the same time you have to try your best and make sure the ball goes in.”

Pirlo is by no means the first Italian to perform the feat at a European Championship either. Back at EURO 2000, Rome’s favourite son Francesco Totti displayed his trademark self-confidence in emphatic style against the Netherlands in the semi-final. The Roma talisman rubbed salt in Dutch wounds as he sauntered up to put Gli Azzurri 3-0 up on penalties by sending Edwin van der Sar the wrong way, chipping into the right-hand corner.

What word did you use to describe Zidane’s penalty? Crazy? No, magical. So why not Abreu?
Uruguayan striker Sebastien Abreu on why his Panenka penalty at South Africa 2010 deserves the same recognition as Zinedine Zidane's



Another was to grace a EUROs shoot-out at the next edition, with England the unfortunate recipients again, this time at the hands of 2004 hosts Portugal. Trailing 5-4 and into sudden death, Helder Postiga stepped up with the weight of a nation on his shoulders. However the then Tottenham Hotspur man wasn’t fazed a bit, leaving David James stranded as the ball floated into the centre of the net. The Portuguese took the game after the next pair of penalties.

Brazilian maestro Djalminha also scored a memorable example for Deportivo La Coruna against a 21-year-old Iker Casillas to spark a revival from 2-0 down to draw with Real Madrid back in 2002, but history is littered with those who tried and failed, leaving with only egg on their face.

When a good idea goes bad
Trying it in a cup final, as has been shown, can secure you legendary status, but only if all goes to plan. Unfortunately, Nantes captain Mikel Landreau wasn’t so lucky in the 2004 Coupe de la Ligue. All the goalkeeper had to do was score in the shootout to take the title, but his lofted effort was comfortably caught by opposite number Teddy Richert, who saved again moments later to give Sochaux the title.

Brazilian superstar Neymar has had his fair share of Panenka problems too. Having missed one in a 2010 pre-season friendly for Santos, the teenager thought he would try again a few weeks later – in the Copa do Brasil final. Neymar strolled up to take a first-leg penalty only to loft the ball into the grateful Vitoria goalkeeper’s hands. Needless to say the home fans weren’t happy, but luckily for him they managed to lift the cup 3-2 on aggregate.

A year later, an even more prestigious Brazilian penalty-taker failed with a lofted spot-kick in the same competition. Goalkeeper Rogerio Ceni is world-renowned for his dead ball skills, but he met his match when Sao Paulo faced Santa Cruz in the second round. Ceni chose to dink his strike straight down the middle of the goal, only for Tiago Cardoso to acrobatically deny the Brazilian international, though Sao Paulo sneaked through 2-1.

Dicing with defeat
Another who was counting his lucky stars was Marko Devic, who looked to have dashed Metalist Kharkiv’s hopes of a reaching their first ever continental quarter-final in the 2011/12 UEFA Europa League. With 15 minutes remaining, and trailing 2-0 on aggregate to Olympiacos, he spurned what looked like a lifeline as his deft effort from 12 yards didn’t fool Balazs Megyeri. However two goals in the final ten minutes, scoring the second himself, saw them through on away goals.

Even if a game isn’t decided on a missed Panenka – or at least threatens to be, it’s not something anyone wants to endure. Peter Crouch was on his way to a maiden England hat-trick in their warm-up game for Germany 2006 against Jamaica when he faced that particular ignominy.

The score was 5-0 when he stepped up for his penalty, expecting to seal a treble, only to embarrassingly over-cook his chip and send it sailing over the bar. While the towering striker made amends later to walk away with the match ball, it did serve as a warning: it’s not as easy as it looks.