Zdenek Zlamal is desperate to emulate fellow Czech Rudi Skacel by becoming a Scottish Cup-winning Hearts legend.
The goalkeeper is well aware that his countryman won the tournament twice in his two stints at Tynecastle, scoring in both the 2006 final against Gretna and the 2012 showpiece against Hibs.
Now Zlamal wants to became the latest Czech to win a trophy with Hearts after he produced a spectacular save to help his team defeat Inverness Caledonian Thistle 3-0 in Saturday’s semi-final at Hampden to set up a mouthwatering showdown with Celtic in the final on Saturday, May 25.
“I know Rudi won it in 2006 but the game I remember is when Hearts beat Hibs 5-1 in 2012,” said Zlamal. “Everyone remembers that game. It was on the Czech news and I watched the highlights of the game on YouTube, so I know this is a massive competition for Hearts and we are very happy to be in the final. I watched the final and I heard all about the celebrations in Princes Street afterwards. I know everything about that final!
“Rudi Skacel is a hero and a lot of people in the Czech Republic know about his Scottish Cup wins and how prestigious this competition is. I hope I can do the same and be part of a Hearts team that wins the Scottish Cup. I know Rudi a little bit. I’ve met him a few times and said ‘hello’. But I know he still follows Hearts and supports the club. I have a very good friend, a goalkeeper called Milan Svenger, who plays alongside him for FK Pribram.”
Next month’s final will be the biggest game of 33-year-old Zlamal’s career to date. “Before this, my biggest game was back in the Czech Republic when I was playing for Sigma Olomouc against Sparta Prague in the Czech Cup final and we won 1-0,” he said.
“Every year they change the venue for the final and that year we played at Viktoria Plzen’s ground. That’s my biggest game but the cup over here is bigger. I also won the cup with Sparta Prague too but I did not play.”
Zlamal made a match-defining save in Saturday’s semi-final when he tipped Joe Chalmers’ goalbound free-kick on to the bar with Hearts leading 1-0. Inverness manager John Robertson, who was standing right in the line of the shot, described it afterwards as one of the best saves he’s seen this season.
“For a long time I did not have much to do but I had to be alert when they had the free-kick,” said Zlamal. “Luckily I managed to touch the ball onto the bar and stop the goal.”
This moment could be viewed as a form of redemption for Zlamal after he made a costly mistake the last time Hearts contested a semi-final. At Murrayfield in October, the Czech gifted Celtic their second goal of the Betfred Cup semi-final when he fumbled a tame shot into the path of James Forrest.
“It was tough for us losing 3-0 to Celtic at Murrayfield and it was tough for the fans as well,” said Zlamal. “It happens in football, sometimes you taste success and sometimes you don’t. That mistake was not in my mind. It was a long time ago and everyone makes mistakes. When you concede a goal it’s a mistake from the striker, midfielder, defender, but when a goalkeeper makes a mistake everyone sees it. But it’s a team game. It happened, it shouldn’t happen but now I’ve made a big save in a semi-final so that just shows you that football has its ups and downs.”