Matchday 13 – Wednesday, 26th June 1996

SEMI-FINALS

Old Trafford, 43,877

FRANCE   (0)   0

CZECH REPUBLIC   (0)   0

FRANCE: Lama; Thuram (Angloma), Blanc, Roche, Lizarazu; Lamouchi (Pedros), Desailly, Guerin; Zidane, Loko, Djorkaeff

CZECH REP: Kouba; Hornak, Kadlec, Rada; Nedved, Nemecek, Nemec (Kubik), Novptny; Poborsky, Drulak (Kotulek), Smicer (Berger)

The afternoon’s game saw France line up against the Czech Republic. The Czechs had been the surprise package of the tournament, ever since they beat Italy at Anfield. They almost didn’t make the knockout stages. Vladimir Smicer scored his first-ever goal for his country just two minutes from time to snatch a draw against Russia. This put the Italians out. Then in the Quarter-Finals, Karel Poborsky’s audacious lob for the only goal of the game against Portugal had people talking about them again.

The French had come through the drama of a penalty shoot-out against the Dutch to reach this stage. Unlike the Czechs, who’d lost their opening game to Germany, France were unbeaten in the tournament. They’d only conceded twice too.

Both teams were forced into changes for this match, none more so than the Czechs. Latal was obviously missing after his red card against Portugal, but Suchoparek was also suspended. Kuka and Bejbl were also unavailable, having previously played in every game.

This meant that two players were presented with fabulous opportunities. Pavel Novotny made his international debut in this game. Karel Rada made just his third appearance. What a moment for them both.

Striker, Radek Drulak also came in for his first start of the tournament. He’d come on as a sub in the defeat to Germany. Despite being 34, this was only his 15th cap. He’d made his debut for Czechoslovakia way back in March 1984. His first goal for his country didn’t come until September 1995. Now the goalscoring hopes of the country sat on his shoulders.

One bit of good news for them was the return of Pavel Nedved. He was attracting attention throughout the competition and moved Lazio soon after.

France made two changes to the side which beat the Dutch. Didier Deschamps and Christian Karembeu were both missing. Alain Roche came in for his first start, having previously only made two sub appearances. Sabri Lamouchi was presented with a similar opportunity to the two Czech players, in that he came into the Semi-Final side for his first appearance of the competition.

There’s a saying in football about how no one remembers the losing Semi-Finalist. Well, in this particular case, no one remembers this match! All over the internet, there’s loads of information about the other game after this. But very little about this. Lucky for you then I’ve watched the whole game back again just to bring you the highlights.

The first chance of the match fell to Drulak. Coming inside off the left-wing he curled a wicked shot, right-footed which went over the French bar without really troubling Lama

Most of the first half was like that. Just shots from long range, with none on target. Desailly and Lamouchi tried for France. Drulak had another effort from a more central position, this time. But it was of a danger for the corner flag than Lama’s net.

Goalless at half-time. There’d been one goal between them from their Quarter-Final ties, so, few could be forgiven for wondering whether we’d have golden goal again.

Within a minute of the re-start there was some action. Unfortunately, it was for the medical staff. Vladimir Smicer, then of Slavia Prague, went up for a header on the halfway line wide on the left. He was challenged by Lilian Thuram, then of Monaco. Smicer headed the ball, Thuram headed him. Smicer was then stretchered off and replaced by Patrick Berger. Berger had been a teammate of Smicer’s at Slavia before he moved to Borussia Dortmund a year earlier. Czech coach, Uhrin, really was having to use the depth of his squad, what with injuries and suspensions.

Drulak was then sent clear on the right but he was too wide, and too far out to really trouble Lama. The French ‘keeper gladly clutched a ball he didn’t have to move for. At the other end, Guerin was again off target with a shot from distance.

It seemed no one had the confidence to try and get closer to the opposition goal before releasing a shot. But then we had the closest chance. It fell to Djorkaeff, who made room for himself coming in off the left-wing. His right-footed shot was similar to Drulak’s in the early stages, yet this one was more accurate. It grazed Kouba’s bar and the French were definitely knocking on the door.

Within minutes the Frenchman was at it again. A cross from the right into the box saw Djorkaeff leap in the air and volley the ball. Agonisingly it just went over and landed on top of the net. Surely it was only a matter of time?

Patrick Berger gave us a glimpse of his talent to come when he showcased some lovely skill on the right of the French box. He put Blanc on his pants as he shaped to cross only to turn inside and shoot with his left. His shot was blocked before we would find out whether Lama could save it or not.

Zidane was one of many players who moved countries after this tournament. He’d begun to catch peoples’ attention with some fine performances leading up to the competition and had shown glimpses during it. He was presented with a golden chance just on the left of the area. He found himself in space. He fired a right-footed shot but it was always going wide. Perhaps a Zidane two years older would’ve shown more patience.

Still no goals and then game eventually reached a point of extra time. The golden goal rule had yet to produce a goal. Remember, this format meant if any side scored during the extra 30 minutes then they won and the game was ended at that point. France had already experienced this with their game against the Dutch. In theory, it should produce epic drama as one moment of brilliance and the game was done. Unfortunately, it succeeded in teams focussing on one mistake and the game was done, so they erred on the side of caution.

There certainly were chances for both sides during this period. Zidane for France and then Kadlec curling a free-kick wide. Then Berger produced some more magic, weaving his way in and out into the six-yard box only for Lama to smother the ball.

Poborsky too produced some lovely play, twisting and turning as he reached the edge of the area. He’d taken on about five French players but his shot was deflected and all the sting was taken out of it.

In the second period of extra time, Djorkaeff floated over the free-kick from the right. It went beyond everyone and Blanc found himself free in the area. Any other attacking player would probably have done better, but the French number five just shanked his shot horribly wide.

And that was it. No goals, again. So for the third time in the competition, and the second for the French, we had a penalty shootout.

Zidane was up first for France. He comfortably put it right in the corner, wide of Kouba’s right hand. France 1-0.

Lubos Kubik, who’d come on as a sub for Nemec late in the 90 minutes, was first up for the Czechs. He took a long run up. It worked as he put it down the middle, with Lama diving left. 1-1.

The French kept the same five kickers who’d seen them beat the Netherlands, so, Djorkaeff was next. In contrast to Kubik, he had a short straight run up. He struck it well to the ‘keeper’s left. France 2-1.

Pavel Nedved was next. He was the first to send the ‘keeper the wrong way as he slotted it to the ‘keeper’s left. 2-2.

This is the point in any shootout where nerves start to creep in. A miss from here and there are fewer chances to come back. Full-back Lizarazu was given the responsibility of their third kick. Left-footed, he confounded the theory and placed it to the ‘keeper’s right. Kouba guessed correctly again but the kick was higher than he expected. France now lead 3-2.

Patrik Berger was next for the Czechs. He appeared oblivious to the pressure and thumped his kick to Lama’s left. 3-3.

When Vincent Guerin stepped up for his kick against the Dutch it was immediately after Seedorf had missed. That took the pressure off him a bit. This time it was the reverse. Should he miss then that might be it for his team. A short run up he fired it to the ‘keeper’s right. Kouba went right but low, Guerin went high. France now lead 4-3.

Karel Poborsky was next. He was under extreme pressure as failure would leave the next Frenchman with a chance to win it. A straight approach he thumped it to Lama’s right. Unfortunately for France, the ‘keeper went left. 4-4. What pressure now on the next two takers.

When Laurent Blanc took his kick against the Dutch it was to win the shootout. He was under a different kind of pressure this time. If he missed then the next kick would win it, if he scored then he could set things up for a potential win. It was probably the worst kick of the nine so far but dribbled under Kouba’s body as he dived to his left. France lead 5-4.

Spare a thought for Karel Rada. The 25-year-old was making just his third appearance for his country and his first in this tournament. He’d only made his debut in the previous December against Kuwait. Yet here he was with all the pressure on his shoulders. It had come down to this kick. Miss and his team were out, score and all the pressure is back on the next Frenchman.

He took it right-footed and confidently placed it to Lama’s left. The ‘keeper guessed correctly but was unable to reach it. What tension. 5-5.

Nantes midfielder, Reynald Pedros stepped up for the next kick. We’d now into sudden death in the shootout. A miss wasn’t the end for him but it handed the advantage to the Czechs. He hadn’t been required against the Netherlands, how would he fare now?

He took it left-footed. Kouba dived to his left and the kick was straight at his legs. France had blinked first. 5-5 and the Czechs with an opportunity to win it.

After Rada was the other centre-back, Miroslav Kadlec. He was playing his football in Kaiserslautern and was the second-most capped player in the squad. He’d played every match bar the Russia game. He now had the opportunity, and responsibility, of putting his side into the Euro Final.

With his teammates unable to watch he calmly stepped up and made sure it wasn’t going to be a weak kick. He thumped it high down the middle. Lama went early and to his right and was helpless. It was a brave kick and he’d obviously decided he wasn’t going to die wondering.

The Czech Republic were into European Championship Final. Czechoslovakia had won the competition back in 1976, and now the Republic were facing a similar reward.

Cue the celebrations.

After that drama, the whole world focussed now on England v Germany at Wembley a couple of hours later.