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The Most Confident Technique In Soccer Was Created 40 Years Ago

It’s known as the Panenka technique, but I like to call it the “Just To Say I did.” To many people the Panenka technique is a gigantic and needless risk, but those people don’t understand. Yes, the Panenka raises the stakes of what is already the highest stakes part of soccer, the penalty shootout, but that is the point.

A penalty shootout is not a place for the weak hearted. It’s just you against the keeper, and everyone is watching. Once you start, you cannot stop, you cannot move backward, only forward. You can only touch the ball once. You will either score, or be an incredible disappointment because you should always score. The pressure is immense. 

In order to calm the nerves, when most players take a penalty kick they try and place it in the corners of the goal. That way the task is simplified. You don’t have to think about the keeper, just the corner; if you put it there, you will score. You might as well have blinders on. This is ordinary.

But some choose to make a statement. Some gamble. Some choose to hit it softly, right down the middle, where the keeper is standing.

Some choose the Panenka technique:

Scoring with the Panenka technique is the ultimate moral boost in a penalty shootout. It shows that the taker is not afraid of the moment, that they are so great that they can mock the possibility of failure. It can give a team the mental edge needed to win a game. This is why great players try it.

But missing a Panenka is crippling. It depends completely on the goalkeeper guessing and diving to one side. Most of the time keepers do dive to one side, but when they don’t, when they expect a Panenka, you are left looking like a complete fool, and your team is left trailing in the shootout:

The Panenka technique was first introduced by Czechoslovakian midfielder Antonin Panenka in 1976 when he scored the penalty that defeated West Germany in the 1976 European Championship final: a stage suitably big enough to  give birth to a technique that has come to symbolize composure under pressure.

It is hard to imagine the Panenka technique being what it is today if Panenka had missed its maiden attempt. Antonin Panenka would have gone down as a national embarrassment. He would have ruined a chance to defeat West Germany, the reigning European Champion, because he decided to softly kick the ball right at Germany’s keeper at a critical moment. It wouldn’t have just been a failure, it would have been pathetic and weak; the Panenka technique would have been thought of as pathetic and weak. But such consequences are what the Panenka technique is all about: confidence only matters when you have something to lose.

Follow me on Twitter: @yetly

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