It takes guts to step up to the spot. While most of us secretly fancy we could convert a crucial spot-kick, in reality we’d run a mile if we had to do it in front of thousands of fans.
Bersant Celina demonstrated just how badly penalties can go earlier this week when the Swansea man’s spot-kick slip against West Brom saw the ball move less than two yards sideways.
Now *this* is how you pull off a Panenka penalty. Terrific, Bersant Celina.pic.twitter.com/xBHzeoRf6i
— FourFourTwo ⚽️ (@FourFourTwo) March 13, 2019
Embarrassing as it must be to fluff your lines so emphatically, penalties do funny things to players who would bury a shooting chance from the same distance.
Even some of the greatest players in the world have managed to take penalties that would look more at home on Hackney Marshes than at the Bernabeu.
With that in mind, what is the formula for taking an embarrassing penalty?
When executed properly, there is no cooler technique than a Panenka penalty.
While the goalkeeper prepares to fling himself to the corner, the taker simply sinks the ball insultingly softly down the middle, demonstrating balls of steel.
But when it goes wrong, it really goes wrong.
If the goalkeeper doesn’t bite on the run up and stays standing the taker has to watch as his kick floats in slow motion into the ‘keeper’s arms, giving the custodian time to make a cup of tea before it arrives with him.
Francesco Totti, Eric Cantona and Neymar are amongst the greats who have come a cropper with a Panenka and whoever you are it takes some work to style that out.
Cantona’s effort is possibly the most hilarious as the ‘keeper even has time to dive, pick himself up and retrieve the ball as it makes its slow-motion progress towards the line.
Step by step
Many a penalty is missed during the run-up from the nervous shuffle of a centre-back about to find Row Z to the cocky footwork of a winger about to trip himself up.
The problem arises either when a player makes an over-the-top attempt to distract the ‘keeper and ends up putting himself off instead or when he clearly is so reluctant to take the kick at all that he tries to put it off as long as possible while edging closer and closer to his fate.
Simone Zaza’s penalty for Italy against Germany in Euro 2016 is a textbook case. Zaza managed to fit his entire daily target of 10,000 steps into his run-up and you can almost see his brain short-circuiting as he desperately tries to work out what he will do when he actually has to shoot.
The result is the inevitable hoof over the bar, years of viral videos of the ‘Zaza dance’ and signing for West Ham – the ultimate punishment.
Pick a corner, any corner
The old adage that you should pick a corner and stick to it is a wise one because the mid-run-up change of plans produces some of the most spectacular penalty misses. The less going on in your brain as you approach the ball, the better.
Five seconds can be a very long time when you’re standing alone in the box with a ‘keeper jumping up and down on the line. Long enough to second, third and fourth guess yourself and to work out that all human existence is essentially futile – especially taking penalties.
If during your run-up you suddenly realise that you always shoot right and the ‘keeper knows it but then remember that the ‘keeper is left handed and prefers to dive to the left but then work out that the last three penalties went to the right, the most likely result is that you’ll fall flat on your arse, just as you decide to smash it top right.