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Nostalgia fuels Czech belief

Published: Monday 18 June 2012, 15.33CET
The Czech Republic harbour fond memories of their EURO '96 meeting with Portugal, and hope Michal Bílek's men can seal another famous quarter-final win 16 years later.
by Ondřej Zlámal
from Wroclaw
Published: Monday 18 June 2012, 15.33CET

Nostalgia fuels Czech belief

The Czech Republic harbour fond memories of their EURO '96 meeting with Portugal, and hope Michal Bílek's men can seal another famous quarter-final win 16 years later.

Former internationals Karel Poborský, Miroslav Kadlec, Pavel Nedvěd, Luboš Kubík and Pavel Kuka were all sat round a table during the party for the opening of the Czech House in Wroclaw.

Their eyes were fixed on the big screen, reliving the highlights of EURO '96. There was one moment where they were all out of their seats: Poborský's now legendary lobbed finish at Villa Park, which was enough to beat Portugal in the quarter-finals.

They could hardly guess that their successors in the Czech Republic shirt will face the same quarter-final challenge as they did almost exactly 16 years ago. It is as if Thursday's meeting in Warsaw is to mark the anniversary of one of Czech football's most glorious days.

"EURO '96 changed my football career and my life in a crucial way, and the same could be said of about seven or eight of my team-mates who were transferred to other clubs after the tournament," Poborský, who boasts the Czech Republic's all-time appearance record of 118 caps, told me.

Many fans, and not just Czech ones, remember Poborský's match winner, the grace of the flight of the ball as it arced over a helpless Vítor Baía before landing gently in the net. "I did not score in a similar way after that. Even if I tried to, I never succeeded in doing it the same way," Poborský said. "When we saw it on the big screen, we just laughed. It was just one moment, a strike of inspiration that cannot be repeated. I know many people remember me only thanks to that goal."

Can any of the current team members do the same and score such a beautiful goal against Portugal in 2012? "It could be Petr Jiráček. Not only is he in form, but he also has the same haircut," a Czech fan tweeted immediately after it became clear who Michal Bílek's side would face.

If you've not had enough of good omens for the Czechs, there are more. Miroslav Kadlec was imperious in the Czech defence in the quarter-final in 1996 and his son will be at its centre 16 years later. Bílek played in two important qualifiers against Portugal in 1989, scoring two goals for Czechoslovakia at home in a dramatic 2-1 win. Together with current goalkeeper coach, Jan Stejskal, they celebrated qualification to the 1990 FIFA World Cup after a goalless draw in Lisbon.

©AFP/Getty Images

Michal Bílek has good memories of meetings with Portugal

"It was definitely the best year of my career as a player," Bílek told me after the interview he gave ahead of the quarter-final. "My memories of meeting Portugal are only fantastic. I hope it'll remain the same."

Of course, the story of the 3-1 defeat at UEFA EURO 2008 with Cristiano Ronaldo among the scorers is a different, darker chapter. Petr Čech, Jaroslav Plašil, Milan Baroš and Michal Kadlec will remember this game very well as they were part of it. But of course, victories spring more readily to the mind.

When the players learned about facing Portugal in Warsaw, defender Theodor Gebre Selassie tweeted to his followers: "He who is scared should not go into the woods." Maybe his courage was inspired by Czech football's positive collective memories.

Last updated: 22/06/12 3.38CET

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