14-11-2005

The weekend's sport had something of a Scandinavian flavour, with ice hockey's Karjala Cup in Helsinki and of course the Czech national football squad's first of two play-offs against Norway to qualify for next year's World Cup in Germany.

World Cup hopes alive after away win in Oslo

Photo: CTKPhoto: CTK All eyes were on Oslo's Ullevaal Stadium on Saturday night, as the Czech national football squad took on Norway in the first of two play-offs to qualify for next year's World Cup in Germany. Although the pitch at times resembled a sandpit, with tonnes of sand brought in to counteract the effects of last week's heavy rain, the game was by no means child's play.

In these far from ideal conditions the Czechs looked the more confident of the two teams from the start. Vladimir Smicer's first half goal was a classic, a header from a right-wing cross from Karel Poborsky, set up by Pavel Nedved. It was just like the old days, a sparkling combination of three of the Czech Republic's vintage players - who, as Nedved jokingly pointed out after the game - have a combined age of over a hundred.

The Norwegians never recovered; the Czechs had several more chances in the second half, and never really seemed to by under real pressure. They now go into the home leg on Wednesday needing only a draw to qualify, but as Vladimir Smicer warned, they shouldn't rest on their laurels:

Karel Bruckner, photo: CTKKarel Bruckner, photo: CTK "On paper I think we're favourites, but in the play-offs that means nothing - as we found out to our cost in Belgium four years ago. The important thing will be the form of the moment, and maybe a bit of good luck too."

Before we leave Saturday's game it's worth pointing out that Pavel Nedved was the focus of a great deal of media attention. The former European footballer of the year was back in action, after retiring from international football last year, and he certainly gave trainer Karel Bruckner reason to be satisfied, with a performance that showed not only flair, but also his typical stubbornness and resilience under pressure.

Talented under-21s succumb to German precision

And staying with football, the Czech under-21s had less reason to celebrate. Despite playing some excellent football at home against Germany, in their play-off to qualify for the European Championships, the Czechs went down 2:0. Ironically, the Germans had far fewer chances, but were productive where it mattered. The two teams meet again on Tuesday in Leverkusen, and if Saturday's game is anything to go by it could certainly go either way.

Ice hockey: Czechs come last in Finland despite plenty of goals

Czech republic vs Russia, photo: CTKCzech republic vs Russia, photo: CTK Over to Finland now, and ice hockey. The Czechs have a pretty poor record when it comes to the Karjala Cup, which traditionally brings them together with Finland, Sweden and Russia. Despite their impressive showing in other international competitions, the Czechs have managed to come last in Finland for that last eight years, and this year was no exception. But it wasn't for want of scoring goals. After losing the opening game against Sweden, they won against the hosts in style, despite losing goalie, Milan Hnilicka to injury in the first period. Substitute, Marek Pinc, who plays for Vitkovice in the Extraliga, put in a fine performance in the face of sustained Finnish pressure. The final score 6:2.

Czech republic vs Finland, photo: CTKCzech republic vs Finland, photo: CTK Against the Russians there were also plenty of goals, but Alois Hadamczik's team was let down by unforced individual errors, the final scoreline 3:5. It's clear that they are capable of some great hockey, but they'll need some more experience and tight discipline if they're to make an impression on the international hockey tour this season. Interestingly, four of the goals against Finland were scored by novices in the national squad.

14-11-2005