The best goal ever scored?

This is a question that is trotted out on an all-too-regular basis.

The usual suspects are always brought up: Maradona’s scurrying embarrasment of England in 1986, van Basten’s physics-bending volley past the USSR in 1988 or Carlos Alberto’s ode to teamwork against Italy in 1970.

They’re all excellent goals, certainly showcasing some of the most talented players ever to play the game.

However, none of them can top the sheer ingenuity of what I think is often unfairly overlooked in these debates.

While all of the goals mentioned above are technically brilliant, or down to wonderful intricate football, they are all a bit…old-fashioned.

This is my problem: they’ve all been seen before.

Countless footballers have hammered in volleys like van Basten, been at the end of a multiple-pass team move or even slalomed round an entire team to score.

My personal favourite is a goal that absolutely nobody had ever seen before. And it won a major trophy for his country.

Cast your minds back to 1976, when one facet of our great game was revolutionised forever.

None of the home nations had qualified for that summer’s European Championships, to be held in Zagreb and Belgrade in Yugoslavia.

Wales had come within one game of the finals: losing 3-1 to the Yugoslavs over two legs.

The final four were a formidable bunch: the Netherlands, led by Johan Cruyff at the peak of totaalvoetbal, Franz Beckenbauer’s West Germany, hosts Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia.

These were the pre-expansion days of the European Championships, with only games from the semi-finals onwards taking place in the host country.

However, despite the relative lack of matches (France 2016 will feature 52 in comparison) the drama was kept high.

All four matches went at least to extra time, with Yugoslavia’s defeat to West Germany perhaps the best of the lot.

Danilo Popivoda and Dragan Džajić had sent Belgrade into delerium by putting the hosts 2-0 up after only half an hour, a lead they kept for two thirds of the game.

After the break though the Germans began their fightback: first, half-time substitute Heinz Flohe had a long-range shot deflected in to the net.

Then, German coach Helmut Schön made one of the best substitutions in history, sending on Dieter Müller for his Germany debut.

Within three minutes he had the first goal of his hat-trick: a back post header from Rainier Bonhof’s corner with only eight minutes remaining.

By now the West German machine was well underway, and extra time only dampening the atmosphere in Belgrade.

Müller completed his hat-trick with two predatory finishes in the last five minutes of extra time: the West Germans were into their second consecutive European final.

In the other semi, Czechoslovakia had pulled off a surprise by defeating Cruyff’s Dutch side that would reach the World Cup final twice either side of this tournament.

In torrential rain in Zagreb, the Czechs had taken the lead thanks to an Anton Ondruš header from an Antonín Panenka free kick.

Jaroslav Pollák foolishly picked up a second yellow card on the hour mark, before Ondruš’s game quickly took a turn for the worse: Ruud Geels floated a cross in from the right, and Ondruš majestically volleyed the ball into his own top corner.

Despite that brief encouragement, the Dutch resorted to type and became the architechts of their own downfall.

Conductor-in-chief Cruyff had already been booked, meaning he’d miss the final should the Netherlands make it.

But even playing ten men and having almost twenty minutes to score the goal to put them into the final, Johan Neeskens got himself sent off just three minutes after drawing level.

Extra time brought yet more drama, with František Veselý freewheeling down the open Dutch right to cross for Zdeněk Nehoda to nod in.

Just a minute later Wim van Hanegem left the Netherlands with only nine men on the field with another red card, before Veselý himself turned the Dutch defence, rounded the goalkeeper and put the Czechs into their first European Championship final.

The Dutch would go on to win the third-place playoff in a classic 3-2 extra time victory over the hosts in Zagreb, Ruud Geels scoring the winner.

The final was to be held on the 20th June 1976, at the Red Star Stadium in Belgrade.

Going into the final, West Germany were regarded as favourites: their team contained some of the best players of the era, the their well-organised football had won the World Cup just two years previous.

Czechoslovakia, though, started quickly: within 25 minutes they were 2-0 up just as Yugoslavia had been in the semi-final.

First, Ján Švehlík tapped in from close range from Nehoda’s low cross after just eight minutes.

Then, Karol Dobiaš fired in a long shot from outside the area – Maier was beaten and the Czechs were on course for their first international title.

However, West Germany were reknowned for their combacks, and just three days after being in the same position against Yugoslavia Schön’s  side fought back in style.

Just three minutes after conceding the second goal, Rainer Bonhof looped a cross into the penalty area that Dieter Müller – rewarded for his semi-final hat-trick with a starting place in the final – acrobatically volleyed in.

West Germany pushed forwards in search of the equaliser, only to find Czech goalkeeper Ivo Viktor pulling off save after save.

With only a minute remaining of normal time, the Germans won a corner on the left.

Bonhof whipped the ball right onto Viktor, and with the goalkeeper scrambling Bernd Hölzenbein beat him to the ball: equaliser.

With no further goals in extra time, for the first time ever a major international tournament would be decided with a penalty shootout.

All of the first seven penalties were scored, and with Czechoslovakia 4-3 in front the ball was passed to West German forward Uli Hoeneß.

A straight run up, plenty of power in the shot – but Hoeneß smashed the ball over Viktor’s crossbar, to the delight of the Czech keeper.

Hoeneß trudged back to the halfway line, while the next Czech penalty taker stepped forwards: Antonín Panenka.

At this point, Czechoslovakia were in front: 4-3 on penalties, with only one German player yet to take.

As Panenka strode forwards, he knew that if he scored, his country would win their first ever tournament.

Miss, and having already thrown one lead away in this game, they may never get another chance.

Facing him as he set the ball on the penalty spot was Sepp Maier, widely regarded as the best goalkeeper in the world.

He was in the midst of an extraordinary run of success: he’d won both of his previous tournaments with West Germany, Euro 1972 and the World Cup in 1974 as well as the European Cup in each of the previous three seasons with Bayern München.

Despite the huge pressure, and the fearsome opponent in front of him, Panenka decided to try something incredibly risky, yet phenomenally clever.

What Panenka decided to do was groundbreaking, even more so given the stakes involved: instead of aiming for a corner, he decided to delicately chip the ball straight down the middle.

He believed, correctly it must be said, that Maier would wait until the last moment before diving to one side.

To put this in some context, this is a man taking the hopes of his nation on his shoulders and embarrassing the best goalkeeper in the world, against the best team in the world that has already come back from the dead once.

Given the circumstances and the ingenuity involved, it’s difficult not to agree with Pélé, who described the goal as “either the work of a genius or a madman”.

There are no signs of what Panenka is about to do: his run-up is every bit as determined and focussed as Hoeneß minutes earlier.

Suddenly though, as you’re expecting a thunderous shot to fly towards Maier, time slows down.

Panenka’s foot teases the ball from the spot. Maier dives helplessly to his left.

The ball sails through the air he was just filling, and drops apologetically into the net.

Panenka turns, arms held aloft, glee spilling over his face.

He’s done it. In the biggest match of his career.

That goal has gone down in history: just the mere mention of ‘Panenka’ is enough to picture the original clever penalty.

A glance at the list of players to attempt a Panenka shows the regard it is held in: Zidane, Pirlo and Totti have all attempted and scored one in a major tournament. Countless more have failed.

And that is why it’s my favourite goal of all time: plenty of people have scored volleys from acute angles, but they aren’t called van Bastens.

How many have beaten most of an opposing team before scoring? Those goals aren’t known as Maradonas.

But only one person can lay claim to the chipped penalty.

The inventor of the cleverest and most widely imitated dead ball routine of all time has given it his name.

And for that fact alone, I think it’s superior to any other goal scored.

So here’s to the hero of Euro 76, the inventor of the penalty that now carries his name: Antonín Panenka.


3 thoughts on “The best goal ever scored?

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