En route to the final of EURO ’96, the Czech Republic knew they would need something special if they were to overcome Portugal’s Golden Generation in the quarter-finals.
Cue Karel Poborský’s moment of genius in a performance that not only powered his country into the last four but also significantly contributed to him earning a move to Manchester United. Poborský looks back at the defining goal of his career.
Poborský’s decisive effort was a gravity-defying lob from outside the penalty area that came after a slaloming – if somewhat fortuitious – run.
I have to admit that we were tremendously lucky. We defended for almost the entire game; we were under pressure, Petr Kouba was keeping us in [it]. The whole game was basically played in our half. They were favourites…a technically gifted team. We had some moments that almost looked like counterattacks and one of them was successful.
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When Jiří Němec passed the ball to me, there was a fight over it. It made no sense. The ball ricocheted a few times, fell behind the three Portugal players, and I had some space to run alone. If it was one-on-one, maybe the game would have gone another way. [However] it was lucky that the ball bounced off those players and fell behind them.
Vítor Baía was too far [from his goal line]. The ball went really high and bounced a little on the grass, so I didn’t have to kick it. It was more of a throw: I picked it up from underneath. I chose a technical finish as I was used to doing that my whole life; I had scored two or three similar goals before.
I’d never played ‘strength’ football; I have always played technical football and I have always chosen technical solutions, which is perhaps a little unexpected for goalkeepers. It’s different and by no means the standard.
It was only a question of whether it would go into the net after it bounced, and luckily it did. The result was amazing, but it was important for the team to beat Portugal. It meant that they had to go home, while we would stay until at least the next match.
Poborský left Slavia Praha for Manchester United in the July after ’96, going on to lift the Premier League trophy in his first season at Old Trafford. In 1998, he switched to Benfica in Portugal.
João Pinto, Paulo Madeira and others [from Portugal’s EURO ’96 squad] were at Benfica. We spoke and joked many times about the match, but I must say that it helped me. It was the same with Portugal’s fans. They knew who I was, they knew what football I played, and I never experienced any anger or offence over that goal.
The winger went on to make 118 international appearances, finishing his career back at his first club České Budějovice.
Many people remember ‘Poborský’s goal against Portugal’. It doesn’t really represent my long-term quality as a player, […] it is not the thing that defines my career. But on the other hand, at least people remember something. It is very nice people [still] remind me of that moment now.