The World Cup is much more than a matchup among the world’s best national soccer teams. This elite event showcases photography like no other and the competition behind the camera is just as fierce as that on the pitch.
Tens of thousands of images by some of the world’s best sports photographers move from the World Cup each day. Rarely does one photo rise above all the others to make a worldwide stir among fans. Prague-based photographer Petr Josek did just that when he made the only photo of the key move that led to Japan's winning goal against Spain and ensured their qualification to the next round.
The photo was taken in a fraction of a second. But it was Josek’s skill honed over years and clear thinking in the moment that made it happen. Josek took a working-at-heights certification course so that he could operate from the catwalk at the World Cup in Qatar. This is critical because, as Deputy Director for International Photos Tony Hicks put it, “The reason he got that picture is because he’s a walking, talking, thinking photographer and not a robot.” The certification provides the access but it's your knowledge, anticipation and application that gets you the best images.
Josek knew the game, of course, but he also knew the teams. Japan demonstrated in Game 1 that they were capable of coming back from a deficit in the first half to turn around in the second half and win the game. Josek also knew he could count on the AP photo team: There were four AP photographers on the pitch and a fifth shooting from the stands. This freed him up to try something that had the potential to be special and different.
All the other agency photographers in the catwalk, including Reuters, AFP and Getty, had gone to the other end of the stadium for the second half that night, assuming that Spain would easily win the game. Josek stayed put.
He already had excellent images of Spain’s first goal and he thought “If Spain wins, I’ll just get more photos like what I’ve already got.” The only real news with impact would be a Japanese fightback. That’s exactly what happened and Josek was in position to capture the crucial moment that led to Japan's winning goal. In all the other photos and TV footage it looks like the ball was out of bounds. Only Petr's image shows how the full curvature of the ball just clipped the line and remained in play.
Josek’s image led the play across the globe and went viral in Japan. He has already done several interviews with Japanese TV and newspapers and requests from other Japanese clients are still coming in. The London Times labeled it the “Best image of the World Cup” and that was before the tournament was even halfway through! In fact, every time this controversial goal has been discussed, Josek's image is trotted out as conclusive evidence for the defense.
Sony, who has been a great partner with AP throughout the World Cup, is asking for signed copies of the photo for their offices in Japan. Sony’s team leader at the event was beaming when he saw Tony Hicks and the first thing he mentioned was that picture.
For thinking beyond shooting every goal and instead focusing his efforts on capturing the most important picture of the game — and perhaps the World Cup — Petr Josek is this week’s second winner for Best of the Week.