When is a Panenka not a Panenka?

Defining a true Panenka – with the great man himself

Everyone loves a Panenka penalty – sometimes, actually, a little too much. In the rush to commemorate one of the most famous penalty-kicks of all time, I think we are often too quick to label a penalty struck down the middle of the goal as a Panenka. So I decided to ask Antonin Panenka, the man behind the penalty, about the ingredients required for a perfect Panenka. The full interview will run in next week’s edition. But for now, from Alexis to Zidane, it’s time to rewrite penalty history!

For those who need reminding, Panenka was a Czech midfielder who scored the winning penalty for Czechoslovakia in the 1976 European Championship final against West Germany. His unprecedented chipped penalty down the middle of the goal has become so popular that it now simply takes his name: the Panenka.

I was lucky enough to spend time with Panenka while I wrote Twelve Yards, and he told me (through my friend, the fantastic writer, editor and occasional interpreter Karel Häring) that his penalty was both a curse and a blessing. He was convinced that the Panenka only exists in football culture as his surname is easy to say in any language. If his team-mate Ladislav Jurkemik, who scored the previous kick to Panenka’s, had scored the same penalty, he wasn’t sure that we would all be calling it the Jurkemik. (I think we would.)

The Panenka is now part of everyday football culture. I have seen lots of penalties that have been struck down the middle of the goal labelled as a Panenka. As a penalty pedant, this bothers me more than it should. This is what Panenka said when I asked him what makes the perfect Panenka penalty:

“The main ingredient is to do with your own behaviour – your body language and your eyes – to ensure the goalkeeper doesn't think that you want to kick the penalty in a different way. My run-up was always longer to gain a bit of extra time; and faster so the goalkeeper doesn't have a chance to change direction.

“The shot should not be too fast, you have to chip the ball so it glides. Also you have to send the ball directly to the centre because even if it is one metre from the centre on the right or left, the penalty loses its beauty. When the ball is crossing the line, it should be already dropping. Even better if the ball reaches its peak height before the goal-line and then goes down” - Antonin Panenka

There are three key elements to the kick: the run-up, the trajectory and the end-point.

1. Run-up: Panenka says a longer and faster run-up is important to trick the goalkeeper. For me, this is not the most significant aspect to classifying a Panenka – but you do love to see the kicker go past the goalkeeper just after the ball has done the same.

2.Trajectory: Panenka’s penalty reaches chest height and then starts dropping as it crosses the goal-line. For me, the ball’s trajectory is the most important part of this kick: a grass-cutter down the middle of the goal is not a Panenka. A blast into the top of the net down the middle of the goal is not a Panenka. If the shot is still rising as it hits the back of the net, it is not a Panenka. The slower the loop of the ball, the better.

3. Finish-point: Panenka’s penalty hits the bottom of the back of the net – and remember, the trajectory is moving the ball downwards. If the ball hits the middle of the net or above, I think it’s too high. If the ball hits the turf before it hits the back of the net, that is impressive. But if the ball is still travelling upwards when it hits the net, that is not a Panenka!

Below are some penalties that have been labelled Panenka penalties. Using the criteria above, let’s see if they actually are (note, these are my classifications, not Panenka’s!):

Alexis Sanchez, Chile vs Argentina, 2015 Copa America final

Alexis takes this penalty to win the shoot-out in the final against Argentina. It is high-pressure and Alexis has penalty history: in the 2014 World Cup against Brazil, he showed that high-status means high-pressure (see When Superstars Flop) and his spot-kick was saved. Just a year later, Alexis needs to score to seal a famous victory for Chile in the Copa America final – the first title in their history. Alexis takes a deep breath and goes off a long run-up. He aims straight down the middle but the contact isn’t perfect; the ball stays below ankle height and hits the ground before reaching the goal-line. It doesn’t matter: Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Romero dives to his left before Alexis makes contact and he’s nowhere near the ball. Alexis wins the Copa for Chile – but he didn't do it with a Panenka. (Good celebration though!)

True Panenka? NO  

Omar Abdulrahman, for UAE vs Japan, 2015 Asian Cup

The UAE’s exciting playmaker Abdulrahman is first up for his team in a penalty shoot-out, kicking just after Keisuke Honda misses his penalty. Off a short-ish run-up and with his left foot, Abdulrahman scoops the ball slowly down the middle of the goal. The ball rises quickly – over head-height at one point – but the dip on the ball is terrific. By the time it hits the bottom of the net, Japan goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima is back up on his feet.

True Panenka? YES 

Zinedine Zidane, France vs Italy, 2006 World Cup final:

Photo: Getty Images

One of the most famous penalties of all time, Zidane is up against his former club-mate from Juventus, Gigi Buffon, so needs to come up with something special. He chips the ball down the middle of the goal, sending Buffon sprawling, and the ball goes almost too high, bouncing over the line off the crossbar and then bouncing out. The ball never hits the back of the net and is far too high to be called a Panenka. This penalty is the obvious misuse of the Panenka classification!  

True Panenka? NO 

Hakim Ziyech, FC Twente vs Ajax, 2015 Eredivisie match

Ziyech is 22 and in his first full season at FC Twente as he stands over this penalty in the pouring rain. He runs seven steps, at pace, and chips the ball with his left foot delicately over the diving keeper and it lands at the bottom of the net. This strike most closely follows the trajectory of the original Panenka – chest-height and dropping as it crosses the line. It's a lovely penalty.

True Panenka? YES

PEN PALS

  • Superb work by Adam Levanthal who broke down Troy Deeney’s penalty technique in this forensic piece on The Athletic. Deeney’s recent tactic is power down the middle. As the striker said back in October: “I don’t understand how people know I go down the middle but still don’t know I go down the middle.”

  • Manchester United youngster Amad Diallo made his debut for United Under-23s in a 6-3 victory against Liverpool this weekend. And guess what? He scored from the spot… but was it a Panenka?! 

If you enjoyed this post, please help me spread the word about Twelve Yards and share this with your network. And if you’re new, you can see recent pieces on how to end Antoine Griezmann’s run of five missed penalties in a row, penalty records in empty stadia, and Barcelona’s first shoot-out win in 23 years.

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