What is a Panenka Penalty in Soccer? (Full Explanation)
There have been many iconic moments in soccer history.
One such moment is the day that Czech footballer, Antonin Panenka, decided to take an unconventional spot-kick.
The year was 1976, and the Czechoslovak national team was up against the West Germany national team in the European Championships.
The score was all tied up, 2-2 after regular and extra time, and the game then went on to penalties.
Antonin Panenka was charged with taking the decisive spot-kick for his country with thousands of fans in attendance.
For most people, the pressure would’ve been too overwhelming to attempt anything out of place, but the Czech legend displayed nerves of steel when he did the unthinkable.
Panenka placed the ball on the spot, started a run-up, and waited for the keeper (Sepp Maier) to choose a direction and dive before calmly slotting the ball into the center of the goal.
One can only imagine the confusion and surprise that must have taken over Sepp as he lay helpless across the turf with the ball completely out of reach.
The sheer cheek to try what he did, under all that pressure, makes it one of the most memorable moments in the history of the game.
The fact that it also remains the only international title that the Czech national team has won to date makes it even more special.
(What a way to win your first title!)
There's a reason why that moment has not been forgotten and probably never will be...
It's because, to this day, soccer players around the world are using the panenka style to take spot-kicks. And every time that happens, the game remembers the man who had played the first-ever panenka.
Here, we take a look at the definition of a panenka spot-kick, how to execute the technique, and some of the most memorable panenka spot-kicks in the history of the game.
What is a Panenka Penalty?
The panenka spot-kick is one where the player delicately chips the ball into the center of the goal, banking on the fact that the keeper will dive left or right as most keepers will do.
The goal of the panenka penalty is not to chip the keeper...
(that would be very hard to execute from 12 yards out with the keeper on the line)
The goal is to make the keeper believe that you’re going to kick the ball into the left or right corner, but then you don’t.
As the technique relies heavily on disguise, your run-up has to convince the keeper that you’ve chosen an angle to play the ball into.
This forces the keeper to make a decision, anticipate the kick, and dive toward a direction.
Your run-up must not give away your intentions until the final moment you actually connect with the ball.
How To Play A Panenka Penalty
Here’s a recommended way to properly execute the technique:
- Begin your run-up as normal.
- Give the keeper a quick look to see what they’re doing -- body language will sometimes tell you if the keeper has your plan figured out or not
- Hit the ball with the area of your boot where the inside of your big toe is
- Try to keep your leg straight
- Lean back slightly to get some elevation and power on the shot -- if there is not enough, the keeper can still recover from a dive to make the save.
- Remain calm
On paper, and even with the eye test, it seems like a fail-safe method to scoring a penalty kick.
This is far from the truth, though.
It requires a high level of composure, technique, and finesse to achieve.
This is why it is more often done by established players that can bear the consequences of missing the penalty - and there have been such cases.
5 Best Panenka Penalties in Soccer History
1. Antonin Panenka vs West Germany
It is only right to put the original at the top of this list.
Panenka has said that he had been practicing the technique for two years before actually using it in that Euros game in 1976.
However, it still took a lot of confidence to try it in a game of such magnitude.
Imagine coming up with a new skill that starts off with chocolate bets against your team’s goalkeeper.
Then extends to friendlies and minor league games, before culminating in the most memorable moment of your playing career.
2. Zinedine Zidane vs Italy
If there is any panenka penalty in the history of the game that is worthy of sharing a stage with the original, it is this one.
It ticks all the important boxes - the stage, the technique, and the result.
This was the World Cup final, arguably the biggest game in soccer.
The sheer confidence to try such an outrageous skill in your final game as a soccer player.
Not to mention the hopes of a nation resting on your shoulders.
This shot showed the level of composure that Zidane had.
The fact that the ball hit the underside of the bar before going in also added a bit of suspense and intrigue to the entire situation.
Although he went on to lose his head - and the match - on the pitch that day, the penalty on its own remains one of the best ever taken.
3. Andrea Pirlo vs England
Nothing could separate the England team from the Italians at the full-time whistle in this Euros 2012 quarter-final match.
The match went on to penalties, and of course, Andrea Pirlo had to be one of the penalty takers for Italy.
He stepped up to the spot, executed a perfect panenka spot-kick, and the rest is history.
Speaking about the penalty later on, Pirlo mentioned that it was a spur-of-the-moment decision to take it that way.
It was only during his run-up that he made the decision.
England’s goalkeeper in that game was Joe Hart, a big man who must’ve been an imposing presence, prancing up and down the line in an attempt to put Pirlo off.
A for effort, but it was not to be.
4. Sebastian Abreu vs Ghana
Some see scoring a panenka penalty in any context as “cheeky”.
Attempting it in a World Cup quarter-final? Crazy.
That was the exact word used to describe Abreu’s attempt in this game.
It was fitting too as he’s known for being a bit “crazy”.
In fact, his nickname was “El Loco” -- so it all seemed pretty standard.
In fairness to him though, it was a good attempt and he scored.
People consider Zidane’s attempt, on an even bigger stage four years earlier, “genius” -- so then why not El Loco’s?
5. Sergio Ramos vs Portugal
On that note, he has scored a good number of panenka penalties in his time, developing a bit of a reputation for it over the years.
It all started in this Euro 2012 semi-final game against Portugal.
Perhaps the highest praise for Ramos’ technique is this quote from Antonin Panenka himself:
“I love it [when Ramos does it] and I think that he has done it several times already, like in the European Championship in 2012.
I think he could be my best ‘imitator’, the player who best takes Panenka penalties because he has done it so much.”
Honorable Mention: Alexis Sanchez vs Argentina
This attempt does not make the final cut only because the execution was not as superb as the others.
There was not enough elevation or pace on the chip, and the technique looked unsure.
The goalkeeper could’ve recovered for a save under different circumstances.
However, it won the Copa America final for Chile, so it deserves a mention.
The first panenka penalty is undoubtedly a novel moment in soccer history.
One that will live forever in the minds of fans, players, coaches, and managers alike.
45 years after that famous spot-kick, Antonin Panenka (now 72 years old) is still often asked about his thought process during that game in 1976.
He has become a cult hero of the game since then, and his name precedes him wherever he goes within soccer circles.
It’s not a bad reputation to have at all, is it?