Sport: The Genius Of Panenka & Calvente

It was astonishing, bewildering, some would even say downright stupid. Even now, you can bet your house and your parents’ one too, the Panenka is being talked about somewhere right in the world at this very moment. It was the 20th of June 1976, the final of the European Championships was being played out under enormous tension in impoverished, communist Yugoslavia. Czechoslovakia, having beaten Johann Cryuff’s Netherlands 3-1 in the semi final 4 days previous, had thrown away an early 2-goal lead against tournament favourites West Germany. Though the momentum had firmly swung towards Helmut Schön’s men, the Czechoslovakians matched their counterparts man-for-man, stride-for-stride. After 90 minutes, it was 2-2. After 120, still no change. The championship would be decided on penalties.

Penalty shootouts are the most vocally reviled, yes secretly adored part of association football. When a game is determined by 10 kicks of the ball in a deathmatch between striker and keeper, the watching world will become transfixed. The audience will shout, cry, scream and flop to the floor as the agony of seeing composed adults momentarily lose all their nerve, technique, and bottle becomes too much to bear. Czechoslovakia had taken the lead 4-3 before current Bayern Munich president Uli Hoeness sent his shot into the evening sky over the bar. Antonin Panenka stepped up, knowing that scoring would give his team, the tournament outsiders, the first title in their nation’s history. What happened next was an unprecedented display of arrogance, style and, above all else, bottle.

The sheer confidence exhibited by the midfielder to execute a penalty of such sublime audacity was enough to make the watching crowd press their hands against their heads to contain the inevitable bits of brain matter spewing all around the Crvena Zvezda stadium. No one had taken a penalty like that before. To debut it on one of the biggest stages in world football was as remarkable as it was ludicrous. In a game that had been more or less unchanged in over half a century, seeing something so new and radical was like receiving the greatest loyalty card bonus in history – getting free accommodation in the Hilton for life because every so often you stop into the hotel bar for a lunchtime basket of chips, or being given a villa in Labadee because you bought a Wyclef Jean record. Many names throughout history are forever associated with/mocked for missing penalties (Baggio, Stam, Beckham, Adam, Ramos, even Messi and Ronaldo this year), but only one name remains synonymous with scoring one.

Until July 24th 2010, that is. Ezequiel Calvente once again innovated and radicalized the penalty kick with a method that was perhaps less like the ‘Panenka’ and more akin to Kevin Pietersen’s switch hit move in cricket. The young Spaniard picked up the ball against Italy after a foul in the box and placed it on the spot. The ‘Calvente’ run-up disguises the hidden beauty of the taker’s intentions. Hitting the ball with the standing leg is no accident, poor Nicola Leali in the Italian goal had no idea what had just happened. It takes real skill to put the ball in the net like that and not fall and break your tail bone doing it. At first you look and think ‘so what?’. Then, after a second look, the viewer would feel their brain shifting gears without the clutch. It looks like a clipping error, a glitch in the matrix. In fact, it was history.

It would be a disservice to the art of the penalty by not mentioning the late Theyab Awana’s cheeky backheel spot kick against Lebanon. But rather than the thought and time that was put into Panenka and Calvente’s moves, I can’t shake the thought that he was just trying to be a jerk. He was fined by the UAE FA afterwards for being "disrespectful toward his opponents".

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