It was a dramatic game: a last-minute goal by Milan Michálek some 30 seconds before the end of the match against Sweden on Thursday brought the Czechs the victory they needed to advance to the semi-finals in this year’s Ice Hockey World Championship. The Czech 4:3 result also marks the first time in 12 years that Sweden will not be playing in the semifinals. In the next match, the Czech Republic faces its neighbor Slovakia. While this is the third time that the Czechs will be competing for a spot in the finals, this year’s solid performance of the Slovak team has come as a surprise. Ahead of the match, we spoke to daily Mladá fronta dnes hockey expert Karel Knap.
“It was somewhat surprising to me, because I didn’t expect the Czech team to be better than the Swedish team, but in the end, that was the case, the Czech performance was better. Of course, there were some moments when the Swedish team was able to put the Czechs under pressure, but overall, our team was better and that did surprise me.”
The Czech team’s next opponent is Slovakia – what do we know about their strengths and weaknesses and what does that mean for the Czech team?
“The Slovaks, to me, are the biggest surprise of the tournament. The Czechs improved game by game and were able to raise their game in the most important match, but the Slovaks were not even expected to make it into the quarterfinals and now they have advanced to the semifinals even.
“They are playing a good team game, with a solid defense and they have a goal-tending star, goalie Laco. I think their heart is in it and they are disciplined therefore, they can be a strong opponent for the Czech team. But I think that our coach has the better players. The question will be whether the better players will also play a better game.”
Do you think this underdog-status will give the Slovaks the boost they may need to defeat the Czechs, or do you think a Czech victory is more likely?
“It is tough to say. I would have never expected the Slovaks to beat Canada in the quarterfinals. But they play with a lot of team spirit, and sometimes playing as a team can count for more than great players. On the other hand, I think that it is likely the Czechs will win but it will be a tough game for both sides.”
Do we know anything about the line-up of the team for the semifinals?
“I think that it will be the same, the only potential problem would be injuries. But if all players that performed against Sweden are healthy, I expected the line-up to remain the same.”
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