There have been many penalty shoot-outs in major tournaments over the years, but perhaps the most famous was the very first: in the 1976 UEFA European Championship showpiece in Belgrade. Twice Czechoslovakia led; twice world and European champions West Germany equalised, the second in the last minute. A half-hour later penalties were needed, and after Uli Hoeness had struck West Germany's fourth effort over the bar, Antonín Panenka sensationally chipped the ball past Sepp Maier to seal a 5-3 shoot-out win.
After each training session I used to stay behind after a game with our goalkeeper and take penalties – we would play for a bar of chocolate or a glass of beer. Since he was a very good goalkeeper it became an expensive proposition for me. So, sometimes before going to sleep I tried to think of ways of getting the better of him, to recoup my losses.
I got the idea that if I delayed the kick and just lightly chipped it, a goalkeeper who dived to the corner of the goal could not jump back up into the air, and this became the basis of my philosophy. I started slowly to test it and apply it in practice. As a side effect I started to gain weight, because I was winning the bets. I started to use it in friendlies, in minor leagues, and eventually I perfected it so I used it in the main league as well. The culmination was when I used it at the European Championship.
Giving Sepp Maier nightmares...
Well, I don't think Sepp Maier took it very well; he was and, perhaps still is, somewhat discomfited – I suspect he probably doesn't like the sound of my name too much. I never wished to make him look ridiculous, though. I am not aware of anyone who would be able to make fun of someone when the European Championship is at stake. On the contrary, I chose the penalty because I realised that it was the easiest and simplest way of scoring a goal. It's a simple recipe.
Czechoslovakia's surprise success...
When we left for the European Championship we were basically outsiders and nobody expected us to achieve any success there. We, the players, had a somewhat different view, even if we weren't great optimists either. Yet the fact is that we had a really strong team; the composition of the team was outstanding, made up of outstanding individuals.
We had a great balance; we had some real tough fighters, a few creators and a few finishers; the combination and range was ideal. We had excellent trainers and in 20 matches – both qualifying and friendlies – prior to the European Championship, nobody beat us. With the two matches at the finals we made it 22 games unbeaten; that in itself is sufficient testimony to the team's great strength.
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