After months of build-up, the Czech Republic finally take the field at Euro 2004 on Tuesday evening. The Czechs' first opponents are Latvia, who are making their debut appearance at the European Championships. On paper the Latvians may look like easier opponents than the Netherlands or Germany, the other teams in Group D, but experienced Czech midfielder Vladimir Smicer says the first game is always crucial, whoever the opponents.
"The first game is always a really difficult game. I've already played two European Championships and the first game was very, very difficult, so even though Latvia isn't the biggest team in Europe, because it's the first game it can be really the most difficult game."
The Czech Republic earned respect around Europe with a 20-game unbeaten run which ended in March, and many commentators believe the current Czech side is the best in decades. The Czech media are portraying Karel Brueckner's team as favourites for Euro 2004 and fans have high expectations to say the least. Does Vladimir Smicer believe such expectancy increases pressure on the Czech team?
"Yeah, because we played well in the qualification group the fans think we can have good results in Portugal. Expectations are high and the people want to see us at least in the quarter-final, so the first target is to qualify for the next round and then we will see. Everybody knows then it is only like play-offs, so anything can happen."
Czech ice hockey goaltender Dominik Hasek is reportedly close to signing with the Ottawa Senators, after an unsuccessful comeback with the Detroit Red Wings, for whom he played just 14 games last season. The 39-year-old, one of the most successful goalies of all time, is now fully fit after a groin operation in April.
Czech tennis number one Jiri Novak has just notched up his career-best placing on grass at Germany's Halle Open, going out 4:6 3:6 in the semi-finals to Roger Federer of Switzerland. Novak's good form on grass comes just a week before the start of Wimbledon, and he described his showing at Halle as a "great result".
It remains unclear whether Martina Navratilova will play in the singles at Wimbledon, after the Czech-born tennis legend crashed out in the second round of qualifying at Eastbourne. The 47-year-old had asked for a wild card, but says she is undecided as to whether to accept it. Navratilova has won nine Wimbledon singles titles, and last played in the event in 1994, when she was beaten in the final.
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