While some countries have already begun their campaigns for the Euro 2004 football championships in Portugal, the Czech Republic play their first qualifier this Saturday, when they take on Moldova away. Next Wednesday, the Czechs play host to Belarus in Teplice. The other teams in Group 3 are the Netherlands and Austria. After failing to get to the World Cup, the Czechs will want to do better this time round. Sparta Prague midfielder Karel Poborsky, who was part of the team that reached the final of Euro 96, is optimistic.
"Of course we have a chance. In our group we have the Netherlands, which is really tough and we have Austria, who are pretty hard to beat, but we all believe in ourselves and we hope we get there."
Two of the Czech Republic's best players, captain Pavel Nedved of Juventus and Liverpool striker Milan Baros, will miss the Moldova game through suspension; both were sent off in the second leg of the unsuccessful World Cup play-off against Belgium. Defender Petr Johana has also been ruled out; the Liberec player has a leg injury.
The draw for the second round of the UEFA Cup has not been too cruel on Czech teams, though Viktoria Zizkov might have settled for easier opponents than Spain's Betis Seville. Liberec take on England's Ipswich Town, who are only in the UEFA Cup because they had the best 'fair-play' record last season. Sparta Prague face Denizlispor from Turkey and Slavia meet Partizan Belgrade.
In the Czech domestic league, champions Liberec lost 1:0 to Slavia on Monday, and dropped to third in the league behind the Prague club. Sparta stay on top after winning 2:0 away to Hradec Kralove.
One of the stars of the 1998 Czech Olympic-winning team, Jiri Slegr, has played his last game for Litvinov, the Czech Extraliga club where he took temporary refuge after being let go by the Detroit Red Wings. The robust back is now concentrating on finding a new place in the NHL. Slegr's last game with Litvinov was not the farewell he would have liked; they lost 3:1 at home to Karlovy Vary, and slipped into second place in the Extraliga behind Pardubice.
The town of Pardubice is the venue for the biggest event of the Czech horse-racing season, the Grand Pardubice Steeplechase, which takes place this Sunday. The race, considered to be one of the toughest steeple-chases in Europe, will feature 19 horses, including two-times winner Peruan and last year's champion Chalco.
Around 40 members of the Czechoslovak team which took part in the Helsinki Olympics of 1952 held a reunion in Prague on Tuesday. Fifty years ago the 106-member Czechoslovak Olympic team took seven golds, three silvers and three bronze medals. Among those at Tuesday's event was Dana Zatopkova, who won the gold in the javelin. Her late husband Emil Zatopek won three long distance running golds in Helsinki, a feat which has yet to be matched.
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