AC Sparta Praha midfield player Karel Poborský is preparing to be reunited with some old friends as Manchester United FC visit the Letná stadium.
The Czech international spent two years at Old Trafford after playing a starring role at EURO '96™ - when the Czech team were based in Manchester. Now he cannot wait to welcome old team-mates like Gary Neville and Paul Scholes, although he faces a battle to overcome a calf injury.
"The whole team is excited about this game, but most of all me," he told uefa.com. "Sparta have played a few of Europe's powerhouses in recent years - like Arsenal [FC] and AC Milan - but this game is the most special of the lot as far as I'm concerned."
Poborský had impressed as the Czechs reached the final of EURO '96™ in their first major tournament since the end of Czechoslovakia. United signed him from SK Slavia Praha for €5m. "Manchester United are like an icon for any footballer and I'm no exception," he said. "The fact that I had a chance to play for them after EURO '96 will remain with me forever. It was an unforgettable experience. They were my first big club - it was like being in football heaven."
While the winger showed a fair few good touches during his time in the Premiership, his period at the club coincided with the emergence of a young player with a sweet right foot by the name of David Beckham. Unfortunately for Poborský, that meant limited chances for him in the first team.
"I didn't get to play as much as I have elsewhere, but I was going into a star-studded squad, so I always knew it wasn't going to be easy," he remembered. "
I was basically competing with David Beckham for my position and that was a battle I was never going to win."
However, he is not bitter. "I've no regrets about my time at United," he said. "It was a great experience and Man United helped me make my mark on the big stage. They were the calling card that took me to clubs like [SL] Benfica or [S.S.] Lazio."
Having left United for Benfica in 1998, he joined Lazio in 2001, but it was his move to Sparta in 2002 that saw him return to his best form. He has since won two Czech titles and remains a linchpin of the Czech national team, showing particularly fine form at UEFA EURO 2004™.
Poborský is under no illusions that Sparta face an uphill task to overcome a United side who won 6-2 against Fenerbahçe SK in their last Champions League game. However, having lost their opening two games, Sparta are desperate for a win, and the challenge may bring the best out of František Straka's side.
"We might have lost the first two games, but that could work in our favour," said Poborský. "There won't be much expectation for us to get a result, and United might underestimate us a bit.
For a lot of the Sparta team, playing United will be the biggest game of their careers - so we've got to go out there and enjoy it.
"I'd love to beat United and I reckon we can," he added. "They might be regulars in the final stages of the Champions League, but they also tend to trip up in one or two games along the way. This year, we could be one of the stumbling blocks."
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