Several things are needed to succeed in a World Cup penalty shoot-out. Brains, steely nerves and a bloody great big pair of cojones are three of the top.
Sadly, for Fyodor Smolov, the latter of these can often be replaced with woefully considered arrogance.
The Panenka penalty is typically a reliable hallmark of what’s on display: boll***s or cockiness?
Very few can pull of the tricky little chip while keeping a cool head and having conviction in their ability to score. Smolov clearly isn’t one of these few as his missed spot-kick helped to send Russia tumbling from their own tournament at the hands of a victorious Croatia on Saturday night.
Fortunately, however, one man in football oozes the sort of calm, confident gonads required to net the ball having sent it floating slowly into the sky, back-spinning its way to glory.
Well, several men do but there’s one in particular and, no, it’s not the technique’s namesake Antonín Panenka, that would be far too factual.
The man is of course Andrea Pirlo.
Everyone’s favourite luscious-locked Italian showcased a striking Panenka on a global stage when sending England home at the 2012 European Championships in Ukraine.
It may have broken English hearts but, boy, it was something special. Being the caring sorts that we are here at Paddy Power, we’ve taken a little time out of our day to arrange some help, support and advice for what must be a mortified Fydor Smolov.
We know you’re reading, mate, so here’s a few words of wisdom from the man himself: Andrea Pirlo. Take note.
We met Andrea – or ‘Andy’, as we’ve come to know him – at a small, chic Italian wine bar overlooking Lake Garda. Of course we did*. How else does one speak with such a man? The stereotypes would be incomplete in any other description.
He sat casually on a small wooden chair, its stick thin props supporting his godly figure. With one leg lying gently across the other, Andy drew long, steady pulls from a King of Denmark cigar and blew the exhalations into a warm breeze as clouds of smoke rose into the Italian ether.
He sipped his Montepulciano periodically and swirled an elegant glass with the sort of considered care not found in most pricks who partake in the action.
Pirlo was the epitome of cool and we felt a little nervous walking over in camo shorts and a pair of Superdry sunglasses, stifling a choke from the smouldering cigar. Painfully, he noticed.
“Gentlemen, please,” he purred, languorously stretching out a tanned arm to offer an assured handshake to the pale, ever-burning Brits in front of him.
“In life, at times when we are nervous, we must be calm, my friends.”
He held up a finger for no more than two seconds and a fresh bottle of red was brought over, accompanied by two more glasses. “Now we drink.”
“The thing is, penalties are no different to life’s challenging moments. They are a time of angst, worry and panic. We have to overcome them. Something such as the Panenka only heightens our concerns, but if one is confident in themselves, glory follows like a wafting perfume from a beautiful woman.”
“I know lots of beautiful women and I know glory like an old pal. So, I know what I’m talking about, see? Clearly our mutual friend Mr Smolov is not on the same high quality page as I.”
Andy’s words came out with a sort of velvety smoothness and seemed to materialise without his lips moving behind the bristled beard they inhabited. It was an ethereal talent.
“You need to be confident, you need to be arrogant. You have to say to yourself, ‘hey, come on, you’re beating this ‘keeper and there’s no other outcome’.”
“You have to remind yourself that you are God and that God doesn’t make mistakes. Then you score. It’s really quite simple. If Fydor remembers that little titbit of information, he will go far.”
“Walking up to the spot, you also have to ask yourself ‘how massive a bellend is the ‘keeper?’ If, like Joe Hart, you can’t stand the bloke and his tongue-flicking antics, go and mug them off. Danijel Subašić [the Croatian shot-stopper] seems like a good bloke, though. Maybe it’s just karma because Fydor tried to embarrass him. Who knows?”
“But, my pasty British friends, I am bored and Italy is beautiful. Allow us to wander the cobbled streets until the sun has fallen and risen again in all its mighty glory. Allow us to sip fine wines and sup on the country’s most treasured delicacies. Let us sing sweet ballads toward the balconies of stunning but lonely women and, gentlemen, let us be Italian for but one glorious night.”
Then with that, Andy had arisen, drifting from the bar while passing a soft wink to the place’s proprietor. We followed, hoping some more football chat might do too. Oh, to be Andrea Pirlo.
* This chat may have been in our dreams…