Regret, anger and despair will linger long for Zdenek Zlamal as he reflects on how the Scottish Cup was wrested from within Hearts’ grasp in the closing half hour of Saturday’s final.
With an hour on the clock at the national stadium, the Tynecastle side, who started the season’s showpiece match as big underdogs, looked the likelier winners. They led 1-0 through Ryan Edwards’ 52nd-minute opener and were generally keeping Celtic at arm’s length. The Hearts support were in dreamland, sensing the possibility of one of the most unlikely triumphs in their history. Meanwhile, the Celtic support was growing exasperated, fretting over the likelihood, at that point, that they were about to blow their much-hyped Treble Treble.
Then, suddenly, the landscape changed amid a regrettable scenario for Hearts just after the hour mark. Odsonne Edouard got in behind the defence to latch on to a through ball and attempted to round Zlamal, who had rushed from his goal to try and push the Frenchman wide. The goalkeeper was rash with his challenge, leading with his right foot. Edouard saw his opportunity and dived but there was contact with the Czech’s foot. Willie Collum pointed to the spot and Celtic had their chance to equalise.
“I have to say I didn’t touch him,” protested Zlamal afterwards. “It wasn’t a penalty. The referee decided it was a penalty but for me I’m 100 per cent sure I didn’t touch him. I asked the referee who gave away the penalty because I didn’t touch him. He said he didn’t care.”
Asked if he was disappointed in Edouard for going down, Zlamal said: “I don’t care about him. He did his job but that was simulation. I don’t like that but it’s part of the game.
“The referee has to see that. They have to be 100 per cent sure it’s a penalty but I don’t think he could be sure.”
For all his anger at the officials, Zlamal acknowledged he could have done better on two counts. He admits, in the heat of the moment, he was perhaps too eager to rush out and halt Edouard when he could probably have held back and let Christophe Berra deal with the danger. “Maybe I should have stayed back,” he said. “It was instinct and I tried to run out but he just dived. I thought he would give a yellow card for simulation instead of giving the penalty. I didn’t tell Edouard he was a diver. I just talked to the referee to ask him who did the foul because I didn’t touch him. I feel angry.”
Zlamal’s frustration was heightened by the fact he got a hand to Edouard’s penalty but couldn’t keep it out. “I was so close to saving the penalty too so that’s very frustrating,” he said. “I touched the ball a little bit when I should have saved it. That’s football – it’s about small details.”
Celtic proceeded to take the glory when Edouard struck again with eight minutes left following a fatal lapse in Hearts’ defence. While there is a school of thought in some quarters that a striker is entitled to go down even if they don’t feel contact, Zlamal will a nurse a strong sense of injustice for some time as he reflects on how the chance of glory drifted away from himself and his team-mates on a day when they had Neil Lennon’s side just where they wanted them for long periods.
“We should have won and we were so close,” he said. “We are very disappointed. We are proud. We were very organised and played really good tactics. If it hadn’t been a penalty then I’m sure we would have wonl. Everyone knew we had a chance. We are very disappointed for the manager and the fans. I feel sorry for them because we deserved to win.”
Zlamal will spend the next few weeks trying to banish the frustration from his system. “It’s hurting but we will have a holiday and try to forget, then next season we will try again,” he said.