On Friday, reigning European and world champions Spain begin their Euro 2012 qualifying campaign when playing Liechtenstein. Only two countries - France and West Germany - have held both titles simultaneously, and only the latter have come within two kicks of enjoying a hat-trick of consecutive victories. This is the story of West Germany's battle for the 1976 European Championships, and how they were ultimately undone by a moment of pure audacity from Antonin Panenka.
The early to mid 1970s were a glorious golden age of German football. While Bayern Munich were exercising a tight grip over the European Cup - securing victories in 1974, 1975 and 1976 - the West German national side was at the pinnacle of the international game. Coach Helmut Schon had led the country to a dominant victory at the 1972 European Championships in Belgium and their might was confirmed by victory in the 1974 World Cup final on home turf, die Mannschaft coming from an early goal down to defeat Netherlands' Total Footballers.
West Germany had proved themselves an immensely talented side - a collection of brilliant players, hewn by Schon into one of the great international teams. But their bid for a third consecutive victory in a major tournament was ended by a moment of individual, unheralded brilliance and one that, like the Cruyff Turn, the Zidane Roulette and the Ronaldinho Flip Flap, would demand its own place in the football lexicon.
Panenka's penalty deposed the reigning champions, but the seeds of decline were sewn after that 2-1 defeat of Johan Cruyff's Netherlands in 1974. While captain and sweeper-extraordinaire Franz Beckenbauer remained at the very heart of the side, dominating proceedings from his deep-lying position, three of the starting XI at Munich's Olympiastadion retired from international football. Wolfgang Overath and Jurgen Grabowski took their leave, but the loss of striker Gerd Muller, scorer of 68 goals in 62 internationals and still only 28, was a damaging blow indeed.
Concerns over the potency of this altered West German line-up were not entirely put to bed by a somewhat unconvincing qualification campaign for the 1976 finals. Though the draw looked favourable given that Schon's side would face Greece, Bulgaria and Malta - in contrast to a group including Netherlands, Italy and Poland - West Germany opened with two away draws and a narrow 1-0 defeat of Malta.
Schon's men finally found some semblance of the dominant form that had characterised their performances in recent years when finishing with an 8-0 home victory over Malta, but prior to a 2-0 friendly defeat at the hands of England in March 1975 - which came halfway through West Germany's qualifying campaign - The Guardian's David Lacey dissected the side's inadequacies.
"The team that Helmut Schon took through criticisms and quarrels, to the European Championship and world title, has broken up," Lacey wrote. "So much so that when West Germany played a European Championship game in Malta just before Christmas, only four of the team who had beaten Holland were in the side - Beckenbauer, Vogts, Bonhof and Holzenbein. Muller, Overath and Grabowski have said that they do not want to be selected and accordingly Schon's team has been deprived of power, creative skill and speed on the wing."
Lacey's reservations proved prescient as West Germany were defeated 2-0.
Drawn against Spain in the European Championships quarter-finals, die Mannschaft secured a 1-1 draw in Madrid in April 1976 thanks to a goal from Erich Beer and then triumphed 2-0 in the second leg in Munich in May, with Uli Hoeness and Klaus Toppmoller on target. The two-legged victory secured West Germany's place in the finals, where they would be joined by Yugoslavia, Cruyff's Netherlands and Czechoslovakia.
The limited format of the tournament may seem restrictive by modern standards - when the World Cup boasts a bloated 32 sides - but it provided for some entertaining matches, not least when Netherlands were defeated 3-1 by Czechoslovakia in extra time in the semi-finals.
The shock defeat of Cruyff, Rep, Neeskens, Krol et al surely opened the tournament up for West Germany, who were now heavy favourites to retain their trophy. But complacency was quickly expelled when they faced Yugoslavia in the second semi-final in Belgrade on June 17.
Looking to dominate possession and restrict the space available to their opponents, West Germany were instead opened up by Yugoslavia. Danilo Popivoda scored on the break before goalkeeper Sepp Maier, in an uncharacteristic moment of weakness, palmed a cross into the path of the brilliant Dragan Dzajic. But urged forward by Beckenbauer, who had abandoned his deep-lying role, West Germany fought back and Schon changed the game with two substitutions. Heinz Flohe pulled one back on 64 minutes following his introduction before Schon made another switch, instigating perhaps the most explosive debut in the history of international football.
FC Cologne's Dieter Muller - no relation to his namesake Gerd - was introduced with ten minutes left, scored with his first touch and then netted two more in extra-time to claim a hat-trick and steer his side to an unlikely 4-2 victory. Under the headline 'A New Muller Lifts Germans', Lacey wrote: "West Germany escaped from Colditz again this evening... to complete a revival which, even by German standards, bordered on the incredible."
Former Yugoslavia coach Miljan Miljanic, then coach of Real Madrid, painted the game as a victory for experience, patience and coolness: "It was emotional football and you can't play purely with emotion for 90 minutes. The West Germans played professionally throughout."
But the West Germans had not learned their lesson and - after Netherlands had defeated Yugoslavia 3-2 in the third-place place-off in another entertaining encounter - they were also caught cold when facing Czechoslovakia in the final in Belgrade on June 20.
Schon's men found themselves 2-0 down to goals from Jan Svehlik and Karol Dobias but again called on their extensive mental reserves, Muller scoring his fourth of the tournament after 28 minutes to pull one back. Czechoslovakia goalkeeper Ivo Viktor proved to be in inspirational form - producing a performance that, according to Lacey, "ranked him with Yashin and Banks" - but he could not keep out a late effort from Berd Holzenbein, ensuring the game spilled over into extra-time and, famously, penalties.
The Czechs initially made for the dressing room, expecting a replay, but were ushered back and after seven successful kicks, Uli Hoeness handed them the advantage when he smacked his effort over the bar. Beckenbauer was due to take West Germany's fifth, but, on his 100th appearance, he was denied the chance to once again demonstrate his powers of recovery that had served his country so well.
The task of winning the tournament for Czechoslovakia fell to Antonin Panenka, and the midfielder would produce one of the most memorable moments in football's long and storied history. With the hopes of a nation on his shoulders, and the great Maier standing in his way, Panenka responded to the extreme pressure with all the nonchalance and arrogance of a monarch dismissing a peasant. As Maier dived to his left, Panenka, unbelievably, chipped the ball lazily down the middle of the goal and into the net.
It was, as Pele would say, the actions of "either a genius or a madman", and the defining moment in both Czech football history and the career of Panenka himself. As the man himself would later say: "About two years before the European Championships I began trying it. It worked so well that I decided that I would use the technique if I got a penalty at the European Championships. It was like the will of god. I was 1,000% certain that I would take the penalty in that way and that I would score. Several times I've seen a player take a penalty like that on television, and every commentator in every country never fails to describe it as a Panenka penalty, which is naturally very gratifying."
For West Germany though, it was a sickening way to bring their dominance of the global game to an end.
What happened next? West Germany emerged victorious at Euro '80 and have still not lost a penalty shoot-out since that night in Belgrade. Panenka saw his invention copied by, amongst many others, Zinedine Zidane in the 2006 World Cup final and Sebastian Abreu in Uruguay's quarter-final victory over Ghana four years later. Beckenbauer would not represent West Germany at another major tournament and soon joined New York Cosmos. Dieter Muller would make only nine more appearances for his country, scoring five goals.