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The Story of the UEFA European Championships: 1976 and Panenka

Ciaran Bradley
Ciaran Bradley

11:56 18 Jun 2021

The 1976 UEFA European Championships threw up one of the moments in football history that require just one word: Panenka. OTB Sports looks back at this famous moment, as part of our ‘Story of the UEFA European Championships’ series in association with Heineken - official beer partner of UEFA Euro 2020.

The Championship was a four-team tournament at this stage, a far cry from its iteration in 2021.

Yugoslavia hosted it, alongside world champions Germany, Johan Cruyff’s Holland and little-fancied Czechoslovakia.

“It was a good team, but in this final four, it was the great outsider. It was a surprise for everybody,” Pavel Prochazka said of the situation facing those at the tournament.

“There were good relations between Slovaks and Czechs.”

The view from Germany was different.

“They were the defending European champions, they were the defending World Cup holders. This was the Franz Beckenbauer, Sepp Maier team,” German football journalist Uli Hesse recalls.

When the two teams made it to the European Championships final, it was the tale of two players: German goalkeeper Maier, and Czechoslovakia’s Antonin Panenka.

“Maier was one of the best players of his generation,” Hesse says. “Perhaps the best goalkeeper in the world.”

His Czech opponent had his skills, and his limitations.

“Panenka was a very technical player – slower, he wasn’t very quick – he would have a lot of problems in modern football,” Prochazka says.

The final was topsy-turvy, as the unfancied Czechs took a two-goal lead in the match, before the Germans pulled one back.

In the final moments, a refereeing decision took place that would change the course of footballing history.

A mistaken call meant Germany got a corner, to bring the game to 2-2, and penalties.

But not everyone realised that a draw meant penalties.

“Every game in the case of a draw would go to extra time, and then penalties. Except the final. UEFA rules of the time were you could not decide a major trophy with a penalty shoot-out.

“Literally hours before, the German FA asked UEFA to change the rules. They asked UEFA to scrap the replay and decide the game on penalties, if needs be.”

All of the penalties were scored, until Uli Hoeness – that byword for Bavarian and German football – stepped up and spooned the ball over the bar.

Panenka had been keeping a trick up his sleeve, for just such an eventuality – and his teammates knew it.

He chipped the ball straight down the middle.

“Hardly anyone had seen a penalty like that. It looked to me that it would go wide of the mark,” said Hesse.

The ball nestled into Maier’s net, Panenka and the Czechs go wild, and one of the most unfancied outcomes to a football tournament was sealed.

Its repercussions were felt outside of football, too, as football writer Ben Lyttleton explains.

“Czechoslovakia was a Communist country, so doing something so creative and spontaneous, which felt impulsive and impudent was really counter to what the country’s ethos was about.

“I spoke to Panenka about what would have happened if he’d missed that penalty. He said he spoke to some politicians afterwards and they said he would have spent 30 years underground, working in the mines.”

So, when you look up ‘cojones’ in the dictionary, you may well see a picture of Antonin Panenka.

The story of the UEFA European Championships on OTB Sports with Heineken – official beer partner of UEFA Euro 2020. Finally together to be rivals again. Drink responsibly, visit drinkaware.ie

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Antonin Panenka Czechoslovakia Euro 1976 European Championships Pavel Prochazka Uli Hesse West Germany

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