About the famous scalp of AS Roma, a van full of beer, and a young Totti

The UEFA Cup semifinal from 1996. A still-standing Czech club record on the European stage, which resisted – among others – three attempts by Jindřich Trpišovský and his squad. Jiří Vávra, at the expense of the famous AS Roma, led Slavia to it. He joined us to tell the story.

On Thursday, both clubs will engage in another mutual duel. An extraordinary goal, one of the most famous goals in Slaviaīs history, brought an "ordinary" man to Eden to speak. He wore a blue sweater, had a quiet voice, and only a few smiles. Jiří Vávra is approaching his fifties, working in a warehouse for spare parts for trams for the Prague Public Transit Company.

"I expected that you might remember," the former midfielder, who played for Slavia between 1994 and 1997, smiled after the greeting and shaking hands.

He hasnīt forgotten football; he still goes to Slavia and plays for the amateur club in Dětenice, where he has a cottage. We discussed that as well. However, the main topic of the conversation lies elsewhere... at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome on March 19, 1996.

Back then, as a substitute, at the age of 21, in extra time, he silenced 60,000 Italian "tifosi", delighted the present supporters of the Red-Whites, and moved Slavia among the top four clubs in the UEFA Cup.

When this yearīs UEFA Europa League draw determined that Slavia would face AS Roma in the group stage, what were your feelings?
"I certainly had a rush of memories when the draw was made. It all came back to me. But itīs been more than 25 years, a long time. I expected that maybe someone would call me to discuss it, but so far, it hasnīt been that bad (laughs). More like my friends and older fans have reached out, those who still remember it."

This yearīs start in the group stage is excellent, do you agree? Two games, a score of 8:0.
"Iīm following it, the guys have a great score, six points. I believe theyīll achieve something against AS Roma as well. I watched both games on TV, and I believe theyīll advance. I visit Eden when I have the time. I was there for the derby last time."

Letīs talk about Rome. What was the game plan for the return leg in March 1996? You won 2-0 at home.
"As far as I remember, it was mainly about staying calm and not going crazy. Playing defensively and looking for counter-attacks. And if God willing, maybe score."

How did the arrival in the Italian capital go?
"I remember that when we were on the bus, people were showing us five fingers, as if to say we would get a thrashing. It wasnīt anything special, but the real hostility began when we got to the stadium. They were throwing coins, cups, anything they could get their hands on at us."

Vávra, you are going on the pitch!

Of course, you resisted AS Romaīs attacks for 60 minutes, and then Moriero scored. Eight minutes later, you replaced Krištofík.
"I was very nervous; I was 21 years old. And there were maybe 70,000 fans in the stands; I had never experienced such a large crowd. The instructions were to keep the ball, help the team in defense, and when there was an opportunity, move forward. What surprised me was that when I stepped onto the field, the nervousness disappeared, and it felt like a normal game."

How did the 83rd minute affect the team when Giannini sent the match into extra time?
"When we fell behind 0-2, it was very tough. We thought we would hold onto the result and advance. But unfortunately, it didnīt happen, and we went into extra time. I have to mention Honza Stejskal; without his saves, we would have really been in trouble."

What did the coaches say after the end of regular playing time?
“Certainly nothing related to tactics. They were more focused on encouraging us, and the masseurs had a lot of work. Everyone was experiencing cramps, and most of the time, we were running without the ball, so there wasnīt much to be surprised about.“

How did the crowd react to the third goal, which Moriero scored again? Did celebrations break out?
„There was an enormous euphoria, tremendous noise. You couldnīt hear a word even from a meter away. The opponent and their fans already saw themselves in the semifinals. I think they might have underestimated us a bit then. They let up, and we scored that goal to make it 1-3."

A hotel bathtub full of beer

There was a long clearance by goalkeeper Stejskal, and thanks to you, one of the most famous goals in Slaviaīs history happened.
"Thatīs right, it also deflected off Jirka Štajner to me. I shifted it a bit and took the shot. There was some luck that it went between the defenderīs legs. The ball just barely nicked his heel; otherwise, it might have gone wide. But fortunately, it went in by the post. The goalkeeper didnīt expect it, and he didnīt even move."

Do you remember what you did after that goal, how you celebrated it?
"I probably donīt. I only know it was improvisation (laughter). Huge joy. I ran somewhere, I have no idea where. And then my teammates swarmed me. It was pleasant, very pleasant."

Did AS create any more chances afterward?
"I only remember a few scrambles, but we managed to defend. I think it wasnīt that complicated afterward. I also remember the silence. After my goal, the fans stopped cheering, as in not at all. They didnīt leave the stadium, as is the custom now; they stayed until the end."

Do you remember anything from the celebrations at the stadium? There were quite a few Slavia fans who came to Rome.
"We hugged, celebrated, and shot some arrows. Itīs true that there were many of them there. We wanted to thank them for making the trip and being a part of this beautiful moment. We also celebrated at the hotel; we gathered in Honza Stejskalīs room, and there were about eighteen of us there (laughter). I have no idea how we all fit in there. We filled the bathtub with cold water and put beer in it to cool. We sat there for a while, had a few drinks. But it wasnīt that wild because we were playing the derby against Sparta in three days. So we had to hold ourselves back."

The most important goal in life

Next was the semifinal against Bordeaux; how do you remember it?
"We thought we could advance, that it would be a more manageable opponent than AS Roma. But then we found out they had Zidane, Lizarazzu, and Dugarry. They werenīt as famous yet, but on the pitch, they showed us what kind of players they were. So in the end, Bordeaux was beyond our capabilities, which was a shame."

But the entire 1995/96 season can only be described in superlatives, right?
"Definitely. We won the title after 49 years. For me, it was certainly the best season of my life, and I have very fond memories of it. It was perfect."

What role did the coaches Cipro and Pešice play in it?
"Huge. I respected both of them a lot, and they complemented each other perfectly. When one shouted, the other calmed him down, and vice versa (laughter). They were excellent coaches and were both fundamental for my career."

Are you still in touch with your former teammates?
"Not so much anymore. Only with Ondra Krištofík, for whom I substituted in the AS Roma match, we exchange messages occasionally. And in Kolín, I met up with Martin Hyský at a Legends Team match, which was really nice."

The goal against Roma is sometimes described as the most famous moment of your career. Doesnīt that bother you a bit?
"Definitely not, it was the most important goal of my life, and I wonīt score another one like it. Maybe in Dětenice, where I play in the district league (laughter)."

How do they react in Dětenice to having a famous player on the team?
„We talk about it occasionally; older teammates like to remind me of it. But itīs not a big topic; everyone has their own concerns (laughter)."


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