Šmicer on Czech Republic's EURO '96 near-miss

Vladimír Šmicer recalls the Czech Republic's run to the EURO '96 final before turning his attention as an ex-Lens man to the city hosting matches next summer.

Pavel Nedvěd and Vladimír Šmicer after Oliver Bierhoff inspired Germany to EURO '96 glory
Pavel Nedvěd and Vladimír Šmicer after Oliver Bierhoff inspired Germany to EURO '96 glory ©Getty Images

With the Stade Bollaert-Delelis set to stage four matches at UEFA EURO 2016, former Lens midfielder Vladimír Šmicer recalls his three-year stay with Les Sang et Or, remembers his near-miss at EURO '96 with the Czech Republic and gives UEFA.com his take on one of the most exciting encounters in UEFA European Championship history.

UEFA.com: The Czech Republic reached the final in their first tournament as an independent nation at EURO '96. Tell us what was it like playing in that talented team.

Vladimír Šmicer: It was really special for me because it was my first big championship, I was young and I was playing alongside the likes of Pavel Nedvěd, Patrik Berger, Karel Poborský and Radek Bejbl. It was a great tournament, England is a special place because the stadiums are close to the pitch – you can feel the energy from the fans and maybe that's what helped us. It was a significant tournament for the nation, not only for the team – we had a great support from our fans. And we were good! That's why we went to the final.

UEFA.com: Despite reaching the Wembley showpiece against the odds – overcoming Portugal in the quarter-finals and France in the last four – do you have any regrets?

Šmicer: Our big disappointment was that we didn't face England in the final. Unfortunately they lost [their semi-final] on penalties [against Germany]. We played Germany in the group stage and we lost [2-0]. So they were confident ... and they were a little bit lucky in the end [to win the final], but that's football.

UEFA.com: Tell us how you felt when substitute Oliver Bierhoff struck the golden goal in extra time in the decider to give Germany the EURO '96 crown.

Šmicer: [It was a] big disappointment because we were minutes away from becoming champions. He struck the equaliser on 73 minutes. Then in extra time he registered again – it didn't look like a good chance at first ... but then he scored, and suddenly you realise that you have lost [because Bierhoff netted the golden goal]. Usually you would have time to respond, but this was the first time the rule applied, so all you can do is say: 'Oh! It's over!'

UEFA.com: What was it like to play the decider at the 'Home of Football' in front of 73,000 fans?

Šmicer: It was a big disappointment for us to lose. But overall it was a surprise for us to reach that stage. We were delighted to play that final at Wembley, it was a mythical place for the Czech players and none of us had played there before. It's a memory we will cherish for the rest of our lives.

UEFA.com: In another memorable encounter, led by Karel Brückner, the Czechs came back from 2-0 down to beat the Netherlands in Group D at UEFA EURO 2004. You started the match on the bench; did you think the tie was over when Ruud van Nistelrooy struck their second?

Czechs celebrate their last-gasp win against the Dutch
Czechs celebrate their last-gasp win against the Dutch©Getty Images

Šmicer: When they doubled their advantage, our coach said: 'Vladi, go and warm up, you are going on!' I thought: 'Okay, great, now we are 2-0 down you want to put me on!' However, while I was warming up Jan Koller pulled one back. So I came on at 2-1 and it was one of the best games I ever played for the Czech Republic. The match was unbelievable. In the end won 3-2 and I scored the winner. It could easily have been 5-1 or 5-2 to the Dutch, or 4-2 to us ... it really was a fantastic game.

UEFA.com: Nedvěd rattled the bar from 20 metres before your 88th-minute strike sent the Czechs through to the quarter-finals. What was it like to score the decisive goal?

Šmicer: It was a great shot from Pavel. [But] the ball was strange, it was the adidas Roteiro – we couldn't get used to it. Pavel loved it though because if you hit it right, you could score from distance – unfortunately he didn't score that one though. In the end Poborský set me up for the winning goal. We were happy because we got to the quarter-finals by winning that game. It was nice.

UEFA.com: The Stade Bollaert-Delelis in Lens will stage four games at UEFA EURO 2016. Tell us why it's such a great footballing city?

Šmicer playing for Lens against Arsenal in 1998
Šmicer playing for Lens against Arsenal in 1998©Getty Images

Šmicer: It is a special city, for me especially, because I spent three years at Lens [1996–99]. It's a small city but it has a big stadium and really nice fans – they love football. I know Lens at the moment are a yo-yo club but the fans still turn up – they support the team in a fantastic way.

UEFA.com: By the end of 2015, the venue will have a capacity of 38,223. Why is the atmosphere in Lens considered among the best in France?

Šmicer: Maybe because the city is close to England, it's a little bit similar. The fans don't wait for the action, they make noise anyway, [so] that makes you produce something [on the pitch]. I remember in the three years I played there, the fans were twice voted the best in France. That shows how passionate they are about football.