Well it's all over. After three weeks of football mania Czechs have gone back to their everyday lives, swallowing the bitter disappointment over the national team's loss to Greece, which dashed its hopes of playing in the final of Euro 2004. Although the Czech team was not among the favourites at the start of the championship, the team's performance sent Czech hopes soaring sky high - and the eyes of the nation were riveted on Portugal. Never mind the fall of the Czech government and the shocking revelations of corruption in two leading Czech football clubs. There was a chance that our boys would be champions again and they were showing Europe -indeed the world - what football was all about.
Flags, football jerseys and body paint quickly sold out as Czechs filled the streets, squares and pubs, to savour this triumph together. On the night of the game against Greece - fans on the Old Town Square were high on adrenalin, happy to stand around for hours before the match was due to begin and making so much noise that radio and TV commentators had a problem making themselves heard over the din. "Hop, hop, hop - kdo neskace neni Cech" - the crowd roared, picking up the popular chant - "If you don't hop with us you are no Czech". Right up until the end, the crowd never gave up hope. And then the Greek player Dellas stopped the hopping for good. In a single second it was all over and it took the crowd a few minutes to muster enough enthusiasm to raise a shout of "Thank you, boys" for the bronze medal. As Baros and Koller dropped to their knees on the grass of the football stadium in Lisbon - the life went out of the crowds supporting them at home. Only about three hundred of the staunchest fans turned up to give the Czech national team a welcome home at Prague's Ruzyne airport when they arrived with heads bowed in disappointment.
But a bronze medal is great news - and the boys really did show the world some terrific football. So why do Czechs feel so terribly disheartened? In their everyday lives Czechs are not terribly patriotic although they have a lot to be proud of. Do we really need to burden our football and hockey teams with the responsibility of giving us the pride and self-confidence we should naturally have? There are plenty of areas where we can prove our worth - and I only hope that the chance to do so will generate as much enthusiasm and a will to succeed as the football and hockey championships do. Maybe then we will be able to say "Thanks boys, for the bronze" and feel on top of the world.
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