The odds of a soccer player converting a penalty kick into a goal are very high. In major leagues, the percentage comes out to between 74-79 percent. Of the 21-26 percent that are not scored, about 17 percent of those result in saves. That means that the odds of four consecutive penalty kicks being saved comes out to 0.09 percent. However, one Romanian goalkeeper did just that in the biggest match his club ever played.
During the 1985-86 season, Fotbal Club Steaua Bucuresti steadily progressed through the European Cup, the predecessor competition of today’s money-spinning UEFA Champions League. The team dispatched Denmark’s Vejle Boldklub, Hungary’s Budapest Honved, Finland’s FC Kuusysi and Belgium’s Royal Sporting Club Anderlecht to reach the final, which was to be played in Seville, Spain, against powerful Spanish club FC Barcelona. Stefan Iovan, the team’s captain for the match, recalled that “people were telling us we didn’t have a chance (to win against Barcelona).”
After the teams battled through 120 minutes of scoreless soccer, the players headed to the penalty spot for the penalty shootout that would determine the continent’s champion for the season. That’s when Bucuresti’s goalkeeper, Helmuth Duckadam, shined. The native of Semlac, in far western Romania, would attribute his success to putting himself “in the penalty taker’s shoes” in determining which way the kicker would attempt to score, and he then proceeded to dive that way and swatted the ball away on every occasion.
Although his Bucuresti teammates did not convert their first two penalties, they were successful on their next two, and Duckadam’s fourth save clinched the famous victory for his club.
Duckadam understandably looks back on those times and the resulting celebrations with fondness. “When we returned home the next day, more than 15,000 people were waiting for us at Otopeni airport.”