The Czech Republic has been gripped by football fever ahead of Euro 2004, which gets underway in Portugal on Saturday. The only time the Czechs - or rather Czechoslovakia - won the European Championships was in 1976, when Antonin Panenka's famous chipped penalty entered football lore. Czech football fans have high hopes their team will do well in Portugal - but how does the great Antonin Panenka rate their chances?
"Our group is really tough. To my mind it's a real disadvantage that our first game is against Latvia, who are really an unknown quantity and will want to make an impression in their first game. As for the Dutch, they're one of the best teams in the world. And Germany may not be at their best, but everyone knows they do well in tournaments. That said, I believe we will advance from the group, and if we do that we can really go a long way."
Among the star players for the Czech Republic should be midfielders Pavel Nedved and Tomas Rosicky, goalkeeper Petr Cech and Jan Koller and Milan Baros in attack. How does Mr Panenka assess the Czech team's strengths?
"For me our strongest side is attack, going forward. Our defence, on the other hand, is quite clearly of a lower quality. The players up front, and the guys who support the forwards are among our best. But let's hope we play equally as well at both ends of the pitch and that we get good results."
Antonin Panenka entered football legend when he scored what has been described as the most famous penalty of all time in the final of the 1976 European Championships against Germany. As the keeper dived to his left, Panenka, under extreme pressure, chipped the ball cheekily straight into the middle of the net. Almost 30 years later, how often does he think about his most famous goal?
"I'm not the type to put it on, to watch it, to remember it. But it's true - and it makes me happy - that a lot of young people, young boys ask me about it, they want to know the details, so from that point of view I'm glad that I've left something after me, so to speak. That penalty did make me famous in Europe, but at the same time I feel I played a lot of other good games as well but the penalty has overshadowed everything else. But of course that penalty is associated with my name."
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