Poborsky piques Portugal
Monday 24 June 1996
The Czech Republic, who eliminated Italy from these championships, sprang their second major shock of Euro 96 by sending the gifted and quietly fancied Portuguese on a tearful journey home with victory by one extraordinary goal here last night.
It means that France, who must have been anticipating a repeat of the 1984 semi-final against Portugal, must now prepare to meet a side that began the tournament as 80-1 outsiders, and had been a minute away from elimination before Vladimir Smicer's last-minute equaliser against Russia in the final group match. Old Trafford must brace itself for the possibility of more drama on Wednesday.
The goal that was to seal Portugal's fate, an outrageous lob over the head of the captain and goalkeeper, Vitor Baia, by Karel Poborsky, was of a kind the championship has already seen from Croatia's Davor Suker but the context made this one easily the more memorable, with so much at stake.
It came eight minutes into the second half as the Czechs, who had spent much of the opening period chasing Portuguese shadows in the Birmingham sunshine, sought to construct a response that would at least give their stunningly fluid opponents something to think about.
The stunt Poborsky pulled, however, would not have occurred to them in their wildest dreams, or nightmares. Advancing on goal from more than 30 yards out, the winger who had tormented Paolo Maldini during the triumph over Italy seemed destined to achieve nothing as Paulo Sousa tackled him from the side. But the ball, having left his control momentarily, returned to his feet via a richochet off Oceano. Now a yard or so inside the penalty area, he saw Vitor Baia moving towards him but rather than shoot in conventional manner he merely scooped the ball in a high, looping arc over the goalkeeper's head. Right in front of the largest concentration of Portuguese fans, massed in the North Stand, it dropped into the empty net.
In the 37 minutes that followed the quarter-final diminished as a spectacle, the breathtaking movement that had characterised Portugal's first-half play now witnessed rarely as desperation took over. There were some nasty moments, some ugly fouls, the legacy of which is that four Czech players will not be permitted to play against France. Radoslav Latal, sent off eight minutes from the end after receiving his second yellow card, will be absent, along with Jan Suchoparek, Radek Bejbl and, perhaps crucially, the central striker, Pavel Kuka.
But for now the Czechs can celebrate full vindication of their qualification for the last eight and a growing sense of self-belief. The Italians, perhaps, did not lose to such no-hopers, to repeat Arrigo Sacchi's disparaging comment, after all.
There was never any doubt that Portugal would perform with greater panache but as their coach, Antonio Oliveira, pointed out, they worked hard but did not score a goal, in contrast to their opponents.
After the first half, they could scarcely believe they did not, Petr Kouba having saved a header from Fernando Couto and a close-range shot by Ricardo Sa Pinto, set up brilliantly by Joao Pinto, during their most dangerous phase.
But all along there has been the suspicion that Portugal, for all that their constantly moving football thrilled spectators and defied conventional categorisation, lack a killer instinct and that they cannot pursue a simple route to goal. Last night's result appears to confirm that.
Goal: Poborsky (53) 0-1.
CZECH REPUBLIC (5-4-1): Kouba (Sparta Prague); Latal (Schalke 04), Hornak (Sparta Prague), Kadlec (Kaiserslautern), Suchoparek (Slavia Prague), Nemec (Schalke 04); Poborsky (Slavia Prague), Bejbl (Slavia Prague), Nemecek (Servette), Smicer (Slavia Prague); Kuka (Kaiserslautern). Substitutes: Kubik (Petra Drnovice) for Smicer, 85; Berger (Borussia Dortmund) for Nemecek, 90.
PORTUGAL (4-1-4-1): Vitor Baia (Porto); Secretario (Porto), Fernando Couto (Parma), Helder (Benfica), Dimas (Benfica); Paulo Sousa (Juventus); Figo (Barcelona), Oceano (Sporting Lisbon), Rui Costa (Fiorentina), Sa Pinto (Sporting Lisbon); Joao Pinto (Benfica). Substitutes: Domingos (Porto) for Sa Pinto, h-t; Folha (Porto) for Oceano, 65; Cadete (Celtic) for Figo, 83.
Referee: H Krug (Germany).
Bookings: Czech Republic: Suchoparek, Smicer, Latal, Bejbl, Kuka. Portugal: Helder, Sa Pinto, Secretario, Joao Pinto. Sending-off: Czech Republic: Latal.
Man of the match: Poborsky. Attendance: 26,832.
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