Milan Baros set to be first Czech to play final of football's Champions League

04-05-2005

Two of the biggest names in Czech football faced each other on Tuesday night, with striker Milan Baros and his club Liverpool playing host to Petr Cech's Chelsea. The prize: a place in the final of football's greatest club competition, the Champions League.

Milan Baros, photo: CTKMilan Baros, photo: CTK The Czech sports pages have been full of Milan Baros versus Petr Cech ever since the draw for the Champions League semi-finals was announced, with the game a rare opportunity for Czech fans to see two of the country's most famous young players in action against one another.

Goalkeeper Petr Cech - who has become a world star in the last 12 months - came out on top in the first leg last week, his spectacular save from a stunning Baros header the highlight of a game which ended 0:0.

But how things changed in Tuesday's dramatic second leg. With just four minutes gone Baros raced into the penalty box after a great pass, and as he lobbed the ball over Cech's head was brought down by his compatriot. The referee (a Slovak) could have awarded a penalty, and sent the goalkeeper off, but within seconds the ball was judged to have crossed the goal line and Liverpool were 1:0 up. Thanks in no small part to the tremendous strength and fighting spirit of Milan Baros.

Petr Cech didn't have much more to do on a night he will want to forget, while Baros - alone in attack - ran his heart out as usual. He was replaced after 60 minutes to the now traditional chant of "Meeeeelllaaann" from the Liverpool fans.

Milan could be facing AC Milan in the final in Istanbul in three weeks time, if as expected they overcome PSV Eindhoven in the other semi. And what a night that should be for the young Czech striker, who has been frustrated in recent months by his poor form in front of goal.

Baros should be the first ever Czech to play in the Champions League final, a game which will be watched by millions around the world. I should also mention experienced Czech midfielder Vladimir Smicer, who is not a first team regular at Liverpool. He was on the substitutes bench on Tuesday, and may also get a chance to play a part in the final.

As for Petr Cech, he is still - amazingly - a couple of weeks short of his 23rd birthday, and has had a hugely successful first season at Chelsea. On Saturday he won his first league title; he will surely get another chance to win a Champions League medal in what promises to be a legendary career.

04-05-2005