On Monday the Czech national squad will make a much-anticipated debut at the World Cup - the first time the Czechs have taken part in the tournament since 1990. Pavel Nedved, Karel Poborsky, Jan Koller - all will play in the game against the US, though in all likelihood the team will be without striker Milan Baros, not fully recovered from a foot injury. The Czechs, in one of the tougher qualifying groups also including Ghana and Italy, will hope to come out on top in the match. Still, coach Karel Brueckner has indicated he is aware of the American team's strengths, saying:
"It's a compact team: they've played a long time together under the same coach. The players have a lot of self-confidence and are well-prepared and have a definite game-plan and a fixed and tactical style of play."
Earlier, I went out onto the streets of Prague to get a sense of fans' anticipation ahead of the game, asking what they thought of the Czechs:
"They'll probably go further than my team - I'm American. I hope that it's not a total knock out! I think that the Czechs may win 2-1. It'll be tough!"
"I know that they're rated 2nd in the world, correct? So, it should be a good game."
"Czech Republic 2 USA 1!"
"I don't think so! 3-1!"
Most bookmakers see the Czech Republic as the favourite but, as some of the reactions show it could be tense. One bystander told me that in her home all the focus will be on the World Cup:
"Sure, we're looking forward to it. We've talked a lot about it! And, I hope our players do well!"
Following the US the Czech Republic will next face Ghana; the final group match will be against Italy.
Days after going out in her first grand-slam semi-finals at Roland Garros, up-and-coming Czech tennis star Nicole Vaidisova is now looking forward to Wimbledon which begins in a fortnight. In the meantime, she has reportedly been studying for exams in her 2nd year at a Czech business academy. The 17-year-old, whose semi-final appearance at the French Open was her most important match to date, rated her performance a "B", although many pundits would rate her less harshly, since she beat two world class players to get there: Venus Williams and Amelie Mauresmo. Vaidsiova eventually lost in three sets to Svetlana Kuznetzova of Russia: 5-7, 7-6, 6-2.
The Edmonton Oilers faced a crucial game 3 at the weekend - more or less a must-win if for the team to keep its hopes alive in the Stanley Cup playoffs. They succeeded - not without a little help from Czech players, forward Ales Hemsky and old-hand Jaroslav Spacek. Each assisted on each of their team's two goals to lift Edmonton over the Carolina Hurricanes 2-1.
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