Who doesn’t love a red card? Well, maybe the player that was dismissed and the teammates and fans of his club aren’t so thrilled when it happens. But, it is always a memorable day when the referee reaches for his back pocket. After all, a red card significantly changes nearly any contest, for better or for worse.
In nearly every football match, multiple yellow cards are handed out, but red cards are much rarer and far more notable. When a red card is shown, it usually signals that a player has committed a serious offence and must be removed from the field. Most red cards are given for violent conduct or severe violations against the game’s laws, such as a wildly dangerous tackle or deliberately stopping an obvious goal-scoring opportunity.
However, not all red cards are made equally.
Over the years, we have seen various bizarre and unusual instances where the referee flashed his red to a player. High-profile examples include Zinedine Zidane leaving a head-shaped dent in Marco Materazzi’s chest during the 2006 World Cup Final after the Italian allegedly said something to offend the Frenchman, Eden Hazard kicking a ball boy who was timewasting by laying on the ball and Kieran Gibbs being dismissed for having the faintest of resemblance to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlin, who did stop a goal by handballing it. Still, the referee sent off the wrong man.
These three examples came to my mind instantly as they all involved high-class players playing in top competitions… and the League Cup. Still, these outlandish incidences happen at any level across the globe and leave a lasting memory for anyone in attendance. For example, I vividly remember standing in the east terrace of the Lamex Stadium for a League Two game between Stevenage FC and Colchester United. Unfortunately, I can only recall this dull 0-0 draw because Stevenage’s on-loan striker Jordan Slew inexplicably decided to punch Anthony Wordsworth for seemingly no reason. To this day, I have no clue why he chose to do this, but it was pretty much the only thing he did on that loan spell.
However, the red card I will discuss in this article does not contain violence. It did not involve any outside interference or stop a clear goal-scoring opportunity. No, this red card comes from a penalty, not the challenge leading up to it, but the penalty kick itself. So, join me as we visit Croatia and examine Bruno Petković’s perplexingly perilous penalty.
Stuttering penalties are not a new or outlandish concept in the world of football. In fact, some of the very best penalty-takers use some form of stutter in their approach to a spot kick, to the chagrin of Ol’ Dave down the pub, who will yell at the player to just hit the bloody thing as he downs his fourth pint of the half.
However, there is nothing in the laws of the game to prevent this form of penalty approach. It’s your penalty, and you can dance if you want to… quite literally! If you want to perform a Quickstep, fall on your face, jump around or take just one step as you approach your kick, you have the right. In fact, all of these have been performed in the past.
According to Law 14.1 of the International Football Association Board rules, “Feinting in the run-up to take a penalty kick to confuse opponents is permitted as part of football. However, feinting to kick the ball once the player has completed his run-up is considered an infringement of Law 14 and an act of unsporting behaviour for which the player must be cautioned.” So theoretically, as long as you do not stop your approach at any point or perform a fake shot at the end of your run, the penalty taker can do as they wish (within reason).
Now, I imagine nearly all footballers roughly understand what they can and cannot do during a penalty without ever reading the rulebook. However, I’d wager that Dynamo Zagreb striker Bruno Petković must know every word of Law 14.1 by heart now after his abnormal red card in 2021.
Dynamo was awarded a penalty in the dying embers of their Prva HNL clash against NK Istra 1961. The side from Croatia’s capital was already 1-0 up thanks to Amer Gojak’s 10th-minute goal and had the opportunity to seal a victory that would move them two points behind league leaders Osijek with a game in hand.
Step up, Bruno Petković.
The Croatia international may not be the most prolific striker Dynamo has ever seen, with the target man often the target of criticism from the media and fans due to his inconsistency and poor form in front of goal. Still, he is a proven penalty-taker. The tall striker had already displayed his spot-kick prowess multiple times that season, most notably netting two in a Europa League clash against Club Brugge. So, it was no surprise when Dynamo’s Number 10 was designated as the taker after he entered the game as a half time substitution.
Petković’s approach to the penalty was incredibly casual, with his ‘run-up’ looking more like a leisurely stroll. The striker waited for the goalkeeper to move before calmly placing it into the opposite side of the net. I’m sure Ol’ Dave at the pub was fuming when he saw it but quickly changed his tune and celebrated when he saw the ball hit the back of the net…Except…The Croatian’s cool spot-kick would not count. In fact, he just committed a foul and gave Istra a free-kick, nullifying the penalty entirely.
It seems Petković forgot the second sentence of law 14.1 of the IFAB’s rules, which states, “feinting to kick the ball once the player has completed his run-up is considered an infringement of Law 14 and an act of unsporting behaviour for which the player must be cautioned.” Unfortunately for him, the Dynamo frontman did just that during his nonchalant penalty. In fact, it was his illegal fake shot which caused the goalkeeper to move and allowed a simple finish.
By the letter of the law, the referee had no choice but to disallow the penalty and show Petković a yellow card, much to his and his opponent’s surprise. It may seem like a strange ruling, but the referee was entirely in the right.
One thing I have yet to mention, and something you can probably guess by now, is that Petković had already been booked earlier in the game. This meant that he had to go. The referee, without any hesitation, walked up to Petković to brandish his second yellow card and sent him off.
I feel the need to repeat that while this may seem odd and incredibly confusing, the referee followed the game’s laws perfectly and made the proper judgement. Petković’s penalty was unquestionably against the rules, and the punishment for it was clearly stated by the IFAB.
Still, being sent off for taking a penalty is rarely seen, and it certainly ranks near the top of the strangest red cards ever given.
What makes this even more bizarre is that Petković’s dismissal was the third red card of the game and the second in that one penalty incident alone. Dynamo Zagreb was reduced to 10 men in the 80th minute after French defender Kévin Théophile-Catherine received his second yellow card. However, both teams would be down to ten men just nine minutes later as Istra 1961’s goalkeeper Ivan Lucic was sent off for taking down the last man inside his area, leading to this infamous penalty.
The man fouled for the penalty? Bruno Petković
The red card would ultimately not matter on the night as the nine-men Dynamo Zagreb would grab a second goal through Stefan Ristovski in the eighth minute of stoppage time and secure a 2-0 victory.
Still, it did mean that Petković would miss Dynamo’s next game NK Hrvatski Dragovoljac and suffer the humiliation of being one of, if not the only, player to be sent off for a taking spot-kick.
The Croatian striker’s reputation was not harmed by this unusual incident. In fact, he is now considered somewhat of a cult hero in Croatia after he scored his country’s equalizing goal against Brazil in the 2022 World Cup Quarter-Finals to take the game to penalties. It was his first goal for Croatia after a two-year drought. Croatia went on to win the penalty shootout 4-2 and progressed to the semi-finals for the third time in their history.