Gary Lineker's famous quote, apocryphal or otherwise, about football being a simple game involving 22 men and a ball and always won at the end by Germany often serves, in English minds at least, as a reminder of their old rivals' enviable record of success when it comes to penalty shoot-outs. As it happens, a look through the UEFA European Championship annals reveals a slightly different picture, starting with West Germany's defeat in perhaps the most famous shoot-out of all.
The pressure heaped on Antonín Panenka seemed prodigious. He was one well-struck kick away from securing the 1976 UEFA European Championship crown for Czechoslovakia, against no lesser opponent than holders West Germany, the reigning world champions. Uli Hoeness's skied penalty had left the shoot-out poised at 4-3 for the Czechs, and so Panenka stepped forward knowing he could seal it.
A hush descended in Belgrade as the 27-year-old placed the ball on the spot and walked back some 15 metres. He stopped, turned, and in a pitter-patter of small steps approached his destiny, shaping as if to send his right-footed effort into the bottom-right corner of the net. Sepp Maier guessed as much, and was on his way to that post as Panenka audaciously chipped a penalty over the goalkeeper and straight down the middle.
It was a memorable end to the first penalty shoot-out at a major tournament and while there have been many since, including at FIFA World Cup finals, perhaps none have bettered it. For the Czechs, it proved a sign of things to come. Four years later, they beat Italy 9-8 in the shoot-out that followed the third-place play-off, Fulvio Collovati missing the decisive penalty. At EURO '96, now playing under the flag of the Czech Republic, they made it a hat-trick with a 6-5 semi-final triumph against France.
The Czechs' record of three wins from three shoot-outs, with 20 penalties converted and none missed, is unmatched. Germany have prevailed on spot kicks five times since 1976 but only once – in the other last-four fixture at EURO '96 against England – at a UEFA European Championship. They, like England, Spain, France, Denmark, the Netherlands and Italy need no introduction to both the pleasure and pain of penalties.
England joined the Netherlands as the competition's least successful shoot-out exponents in the UEFA EURO 2012 quarter-finals, suffering their third defeat in four attempts. Andrea Pirlo's nerveless chipped effort, all the more impressive considering Italy were trailing at the time, bore all the hallmarks of Panenka. Penalties, said Azzurri coach Cesare Prandelli, are a "lottery" – some players and teams seem pretty consistent at choosing the winning numbers, though.
1976 final: Czechoslovakia 2-2 West Germany, Czechs won 5-3 on pens
1980 third-place play-off: Czechoslovakia 1-1 Italy, Czechs won 9-8 on pens
1984 semi-finals: Denmark 1-1 Spain, Spain won 5-4 on pens
1992 semi-finals: Netherlands 2-2 Denmark, Denmark won 5-4 on pens
1996 quarter-finals: Spain 0-0 England, England won 4-2 on pens
1996 quarter-finals: France 0-0 Netherlands, France won 5-4 on pens
1996 semi-finals: Germany 1-1 England, Germany won 6-5 on pens
1996 semi-finals: France 0-0 Czech Republic, Czechs won 6-5 on pens
2000 semi-finals: Italy 0-0 Netherlands, Italy won 3-1 on pens
2004 quarter-finals: Portugal 2-2 England, Portugal won 6-5 on pens
2004 quarter-finals: Sweden 0-0 Netherlands, Netherlands won 5-4 on pens
2008 quarter-finals: Croatia 1-1 Turkey, Turkey won 3-1 on pens
2008 quarter-finals: Spain 0-0 Italy, Spain won 4-2 on pens
2012 quarter-finals: England 0-0 Italy, Italy won 4-2 on pens
2012 semi-finals: Portugal 0-0 Spain, Spain won 4-2 on pens
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