take nothing for granted
They may be unbeaten in two years and boast the European
Footballer of the Year in Pavel Nedved but Czech Republic
coach Karel Brückner is not one to rest on his laurels.
only look ahead," said the 64-year-old, who has overseen
a run of 19 games without defeat. "We are just at
half-time and the real proof will come in Portugal." Brückner
may have in mind EURO 2000, where he was assistant to Jozef
Chovanec and a tournament for which the Czechs qualified with
a perfect record only to go home after the group stage.
Key to Brückner's team overcoming the Netherlands in
qualifying was stability - ten players started at least seven
of the eight qualifiers - and he acknowledges that fitness
will be a vital factor come June. "I am not afraid that
the team will misfire in Portugal," he said.
"However, injuries can take their toll."
Brückner will certainly be glad to see forward Milan Baro
back in action. Baro has scored 12 goals in 21
internationals but has not played since breaking his ankle
playing for Liverpool in September. Now training again, he
should return soon. Another regular who should return this
month is Hamburger defender Tomá Ujfalui who injured knee
ligaments in December.
Brückner's other cause for concern going into 2004 were
possible mid-season transfers and their unsettling effect.
"A move to a new side is always questionable," he
said in January. "The new coach may have a different idea
about a player's role. The language barrier is also a problem
and the player may even lose his place in the lineup. I would
prefer moves after EURO 2004."
To this end, Brückner will be relieved that goalkeeper Petr
Cech is staying with Stade Rennais until the summer. Cech, who
is expected to join Chelsea, conceded only five goals in eight
qualifying games. Two players have made moves, however, and it
remains to be seen how this affects their prospects.
Defender Adam Petrou and second-choice goalkeeper Antonín
Kinskı have both joined clubs in Russia, Petrou leaving
Slavia Praha for Rubin Kazan and Kinskı joining Saturn
Moskovskaya Oblast from Slovan Liberec. The transfers may not
endear them to Brückner, who rarely considers CSKA Moskva
midfield player Jirí Jarosík, until last summer the most
expensive player in Russian football.
Perhaps Jarosík's example caused Vratislav Lokvenc to reject
a move to Japanese side Vissel Kobe. The striker opted to
remain at Kaiserslautern and will stay in contention for the
Czechs' six scheduled warm-up matches, beginning with a trip
to Palermo to face Italy on 18 February. With dark horses
Latvia and familiar rivals Germany and the Netherlands
awaiting in Portugal, the preparations need to be perfect. -