08 July 2018

Let's have some new clichés

Those acutely conscious of the fact that football wasn't invented in 1992, you know, will have been delighted by how Fyodor Smolov decided to open Russia's World Cup quarter-final penalty shootout. It was an inspired homage to a penalty taken by none other than Diego Maradona in Argentina's 1990 shootout against Yugoslavia: a gentle game of catch with a Croatian goalkeeper (then, Tomislav Ivković; now, Danijel Subašić). Behold, ladies and gentlemen, the state of this:

A cherished World Cup memory of mine is Maradona's penalty in the shootout of Argentina's next game, the semi-final against Italy. He allowed Walter Zenga to dive to his right, and oh-so-slowly rolled the kick far away to the other side, the ball perhaps (it's a little hard to tell) even kissing the inside of the post as it went in.

Looking back at the video, I realise that's not quite how it happened.

But then, I never said that's how it happened. I told you what my memory of it is, and imagination has improved on reality. (The reality wasn't bad either, mind you.)

Perhaps this is what afflicted Smolov. In his mind, he probably saw himself performing the perfect Panenka. What he got was the horrific reality of trying to coolly swim in that particular shark tank.

The Panenka is a devalued currency. For one thing, as chapeaux go, it's quite the vieuxest. For another, all kinds of nonsense have been awarded that grand title. Here's Antonín Panenka's original (and best, according to Tina Turner):

And here's Zinedine Zidane's from the 2006 World Cup final:

Chipping a "Panenka" that high is a safe way to do something that ought to be dangerous. Calling it a Panenka is like claiming to have circumnavigated the globe by walking around the North Pole and it at arm's length. A Panenka should softly stroke the goalkeeper's hair and whisper in his ear: "ya prick".

There are three perfect penalties, and on this I'll hear no argument. One is a genuine Panenka. Another is the Pressman:

The other is one yet to be made manifest in the inadequate construct dignified by the name "the real world". As Maradona did with Zenga, it uses the goalkeeper's propensity to pick a side to dive on. The taker would then kick the ball to the other side of the goal at the slowest possible speed for it to cross the line. It's a penalty that says: "This is how little energy I need to waste on this charade".

This penalty also comes in a deluxe version wherein the keeper, sprawled on the wrong side of the goal, has just enough time to realise what's going on, get up, dive back across the goal and ... just ... get ... a ... fingertip to the ball ... which only directs it towards that spot where it simultaneously hits the inside of the post and the beautiful, beautiful side-netting.

Proof, still more proof, that in my mind — where it really counts — I'm a better footballer than Zinedine Zidane.


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