"When we arrived back in the Czech Republic we were welcomed like national heroes," recalled Pavel Nedvěd as he spoke to UEFA.com about his memories of the Czech Republic's showing at EURO '96. "That's something I will remember all my life."
Now 39 and retired, the attacking midfielder won league titles with AC Sparta Praha, S.S. Lazio and Juventus, and was a key figure in the Czech side that lost 2-1 to Germany in extra time of the EURO '96 final before reaching the semi-finals at UEFA EURO 2004. That first experience in England remains the defining one of the 91-cap Nedvěd's international career.
"We were an unknown team back then and we had a pretty difficult group stage with top teams – we had to face Italy, Germany and Russia," he remembered. "But we played good football. We were a pretty young team, we were hungry for success, we were hungry to show that the Czech Republic has good players.
"The defeat in the final didn't tarnish what we had achieved during the whole tournament," he added. "For our people we were still winners."
UEFA EURO 2000, by contrast, was to prove a disappointment as the Czechs failed to advance to the knockout stage, despite not dropping a point in qualifying. Four years later, though, they made amends at UEFA EURO 2004 in Portugal, getting to the last four before being upstaged by surprise eventual winners Greece.
"I think we played the nicest football of all the teams in Portugal and I think we should have won that EURO," said Nedvěd. "Unfortunately I got injured in the semis and we didn't manage to win against Greece – we lost by one goal. And that, in fact, is my main regret from my career in the national team."
Now Nedvěd hopes the current squad can write a new chapter at UEFA EURO 2012, having posted mixed results in qualifying. "We have new, young players who are waiting to explode, maybe in the same way we did back then in England. We have to have faith in our youngsters and let them play."
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