The Penalty Curse: Miroslav Djukic

This series looks at the players who fell foul of the dreaded penalty kick: a task which, on paper, looks the easiest of all for a professional footballer, but which, in reality, is perhaps one of the most difficult.

We’ve looked at Reynald Pedros’ downward spiral after missing for France in 1996 and Victor Ikpeba’s heart-wrenching story. This time it’s Serbian defender Miroslav Djukic and Deportivo La Coruña’s 1994 title bid.

Djukic prepares to take the penalty kick which would hand Depor the La Liga title. Photo: pipogt

Last season saw Deportivo La Coruña relegated from the top tier of Spanish football, meaning they find themselves in the Segunda Division for the first time in 20 years. In those two decades of La Liga experience, Depor have achieved a lot.

They won two Copa Del Reys, in 1995 and 2002. In the 2003-04 season they reached the semi-final of the Champions League – only denied a place in the final by Mourinho-inspired FC Porto. And, perhaps most notably, the club won their first – and to this date their only – La Liga title in 2000. However they should have landed that title six years earlier – and were just one 12-yard effort away from doing so.

After narrowly staying up in the 1991-92 season after a relegation play-off victory against Real Betis, Deportivo soared in the following one. Inspired by coach Arsenio Iglesias and the likes of Bebeto and Fran, Depor finished third in the table. The next season they went even better.

Going into the final day of the season, Deportivo La Coruña sat top of the La Liga table with 55 points. However Barcelona were breathing down their title rivals’ necks on 54 points, poised to pounce on Iglesias’ side if they slipped up at home to Valencia – who had nothing to play for. Barca had to better Deportivo’s result if they were to win the championship but they were playing Sevilla who still had hopes of securing European football.

It is alleged by many Spaniards that Barcelona were so worried about the unmotivated Valencia laying down against Deportivo that Johan Cruyff’s club offered cash incentives to the players in an attempt to stimulate them. Whether those allegations were true or not, they were certainly to rile Depor fans even more come the end of the game.

With minutes to go, Barcelona were comfortably beating Sevilla in the Nou Camp. All eyes were focused on the Riazor where Deportivo could not find a way past Gonzalez in the Valencia goal. It was still goalless.

But then, in the dying moments of the game, Depor’s Nando dummied a shot on the edge of the box and nudged the ball past Valencia’s Serer, who dangled his right boot. Nando went over it and the referee pointed to the spot. Players dropped their knees, praying. After ninety minutes of drudgery, Depor had their chance to win their first title.

Donato, their set piece and penalty taking weapon, had been substituted though, so under extreme pressure, it was Serbian defender Miroslav Djukic who put himself forward to take the most important penalty kick in Deportivo’s then-88 year history.

With the Riazor ready to explode, Djukic steadied himself with a large gasp of Galician air. The referee blew his whistle and Djukic made his move, placing the ball with the inside of his boot, low and to the right of Gonzalez. His weak shot, though, was easily saved by the goalkeeper, who immediately stood up and punched the air. Valencia players – who seemingly had nothing to play for, apart from alleged Barcelona-sponsored cash – leapt with delight. The game finished 0-0 and Barcelona were champions.

Djukic stayed at Deportivo for another three seasons but he couldn’t atone for that missed attempt as the club finished as a disappointing 9th placed finish in 1996 was sandwiched between another runners-up position and 3rd place.

In 1997 he moved, ironically, to Valencia and watched on as his former club finally clinched the Spanish crown in 2000. Speaking after that win, the 48-times capped Serb Djukic reportedly said: “God exists. They deserve that. Now I have peace in my soul.”

Indeed in 2002, Djukic won a La Liga title of his own with Los Che and that fateful match in 1994 cold finally be put to bed forever.

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