"I almost did it too well," the Czech Republic's Karel Poborský said as he recalled the agonising moments of waiting for his lob against Portugal at EURO '96 to drop into the net.
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"I always liked to finish with skill rather than power," conceded Karel Poborský as he remembered the EURO '96 quarter-final against Portugal that was decided by his glorious 53rd-minute lob.
Endless replays mean he is unlikely ever to forget that goal in Birmingham. "Jiří Nemec passed to me – I ran at two or three players and lost the ball, but it bounced back to me and suddenly I was behind the defence running towards goal," the former attacking midfielder said.
"[Portugal goalkeeper Vítor] Baía was a long way off his line so it was the easiest thing to do. I almost did it too well – the ball went very high and for a moment I thought it would not drop into the net, but it did and it was a very important goal for us."
Off the radar
Fans outside the Czech Republic did not know much about Poborský when the 24-year-old arrived in England for EURO '96. He had kept a moderately low profile on home soil: when all the big clubs came in to sign him from Dynamo České Budějovice in 1994, he unexpectedly switched to Viktoria Žižkov, transferring to Slavia Praha a year later and helping them win the Czech title – and reach the UEFA Cup semi-finals – in what would be his only season.
The Czechs made it all the way to the final at EURO '96, even leading Germany for 14 second-half minutes, only to ultimately lose to a golden goal. Poborský did not have long to consider how close they came to glory, swiftly moving on to Manchester United. If David Beckham won the long-term battle for a starting place on United's right, Poborský never regretted his stay in England, where he lifted the title in his first term. "The move to Manchester United opened the world to me," he said. "It was the best decision of my life."
A subsequent Portuguese Liga sojourn suited Poborský's languid, skilful style. Together with João Pinto, the winger formed the fulcrum of the Benfica side, and was adored in Lisbon.
"We spoke and joked many times about the match, but I must say that it helped me. It was the same with Portuguese fans: they knew who I was." International team-mate Pavel Nedvěd then recommended him to Lazio, where he also played alongside Alessandro Nesta and Hernán Crespo.
Coach Dušan Uhrin gave Poborský his first cap in a 4-1 friendly victory over Turkey in February 1994 – the Czech Republic's first official outing since the break-up of the former Czechoslovakia – when the midfielder was with České Budějovice in his native Southern Bohemia. One of the leading lights in a fine generation, his international career spanned three EURO tournaments, at which he was a runner-up in 1996 and a losing semi-finalist in 2004.
Goalkeeper Petr Čech – who lined up alongside Poborský on his debut, aged 19 in 2002 – surpassed his record tally of 118 caps, though it will take something remarkable to overshadow the shaggy-haired Poborský's exploits for his country.
Poborský returned to the Czech Republic in 2002 with Sparta Praha – arch-rivals of his old side Slavia. As captain, he landed two league championships and a Czech Cup with the capital club, also getting to the last 16 of the 2003/04 UEFA Champions League. He eventually came full circle, ending his career in May 2007 after a two-year stint at České Budějovice.
Quite what he would have achieved without that lob at EURO '96 is anyone's guess, but Poborský – who still plays occasional exhibition games with his Czech '96 team-mates – clearly enjoyed the ride it took him on. "There is a lot to remember," he said as he surveyed his career. "Many, many things happened, and I enjoyed them all."