After being confronted by no fewer than twelve penalties so far at the FIFA U-20 World Cup, Czech Republic goalkeeper Radek Petr could be forgiven for being heartily sick of them by now.
However, Petr has been something of a hero for the Czechs, who have held their nerve in the most testing of circumstances to make it all the way to the semi-finals against Austria in Edmonton on Wednesday. The 20-year-old has kept out three of those penalties, all in shootouts, and the Czech number one would be happy to face another set of spot-kicks if it meant his team would make it through to the Final in Toronto on 22 July.
"We have been lucky," he told FIFA.com in exclusive interview at the team's hotel headquarters. "I saved two penalties against Japan, one against Spain and they also hit one against the crossbar. I have faced a lot but I don't mind doing it all over again against Austria as long as we end up winning at the end of it all. Every goalkeeper has some special tricks they have up their sleeve, plus some of the coaches and players give me advice about what to do, but you also need to have that little bit of fortune that we have had."
When Tomas Oklestek scored the decisive penalty in the Round of 16 victory over Japan, he was crushed by his celebrating Czech team-mates, leaving him with the most unfortunate of injuries and out of the Spain game. Petr was absolutely determined not suffer his fate when he became the man of the moment for the Czechs against Spain on Sunday, diving to his left to palm away Gerard Pique's attempt to secure Miroslav Soukup's side their second successive 4-3 win on spot-kicks. "I was thinking about what happened to Tomas as soon as I made the save," he said with a broad grin. "I thought if I stayed in the same position they would jump on me and overwhelm me, so I went towards the players myself and made sure I was cushioned so that nothing bad would happen to me.
"Once I knew I was OK, my mind was on my family back home in Krnev. I had flashback thoughts about my parents, my brother and my grandparents because of how much all this would mean to them. I knew they would be watching the game, with their thumbs tucked inside their fists, which is a Czech gesture for good luck," said Petr, who also saved a penalty in the group stage against Korea DPR, although the Koreans scored from the rebound.
The appearance of Austria and the Czech Republic in the last four has raised a few eyebrows and Petr, who spent last season at Banik Ostrava, was happy to admit that he is among them. He said: "I'm surprised we got this far because our main goal was to progress past the group stage. Suddenly we are among the last four of the best teams in the world. Everybody is enjoying this time and we are all so happy. Both teams will be tactically ready and I don't think it will be a case of either team playing free-wheeling football. It might end up being a defensive battle."