Poborsky rides Euro express

MAN ON THE SPOT Karel Poborsky (Czech Republic)
Every major football tournment throws up an unlikely hero - Salvatore Schillaci at Italia 90 is one of the more obvious examples - and Euro 96 is no exception. The media's current favourite is a skinny, long-haired 24-year-old from Prague who rejoices in the nickname "Express Train" and looks as though he has just failed an audition for Spinal Tap.

Karel Poborsky had already made a big impression with his non-stop running and probing as the Czech Republic beat Italy 2-1 and then snatched a dramatic 3-3 draw with Russia to qualify for the quarter-finals. At Villa Park on Sunday, however, he went even further and put himself in the sporting headlines across Europe with the most impudent goal of the tournament to date.

Poborsky's audacious lob over a startled Portuguese goalkeeper, Vitor Baia, gave the Czechs a 1-0 quarter-final win and a date with France in the last four tomorrow. It also put the Slavia Prague winger firmly in European football's shop window. He has another year to run on his contract with the Czech champions, but he could be on his way west long before the 12 months are up. "There is no question that I would like to play in a top league at some stage, be that in Italy or Germany," Poborsky said. "I will do my best to achieve that dream."

His Czech squad-mate Pavel Srnicek thinks Poborsky would do well in the Premiership. "I see no reason why Karel couldn't do an excellent job for a top English club," the Newcastle goalkeeper said. "He has the qualities to succeed here, as many have seen during our games at Euro 96."

For now, though, tomorrow's semi-final at Old Trafford is all that matters for Poborsky. With four of his colleagues suspended for the game against France, he will be bearing a heavy burden on his skinny frame...

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