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  Euro Stars    Pavel Nedved


Nedved eyes chance to go from villain to vindicated
Pavel Nedved
Two years ago, with boos ringing in his ears as the Czechs lost a World Cup qualifying playoff against Belgium, midfielder Pavel Nedved considered hanging up his international boots.

His surging runs, incisive passes and devastating finishing had made him one of the most feared midfielders in Europe.

But at home Nedved was roundly accused of being a negative influence on a team that could and should have done better. The fans and media were ruthless in blaming him for the Czechs' absence from the 2002 World Cup.

Instead of giving up, however, the 31-year-old Nedved has fought hard to progress from villain to vindicated captain, and hopes to cap the turnaround by guiding the team to victory at Euro 2004.

"We've been drawn in a tough group, a lot of teams could win it," Nedved said about Group D, which also includes two former champions in the Netherlands and Germany, plus outsiders Latvia.

"I think we have a good chance in Portugal," the Juventus midfielder added, cautious not to set himself up for the fans' ire once more.

Nedved's international star has long been expected to shine and the Czechs will need him at his best in Portugal.

His talents were certainly recognised though when he was named 2003 European Footballer of the Year and shared the award of Italian Footballer of the Year with AS Roma striker Francesco Totti.

After helping Sparta Prague to win three titles, he moved to Lazio in 1996 where he quickly became a fans' favourite, steering his side to victories in the Italian Cup and European Cup Winners' Cup in 1999.

The following season Lazio clinched an Italian league and cup double before Nedved, with his Beatle-style mop-top blond haircut, joined Juventus for 41 million euros ($49 million).

Nedved initially struggled at the Turin club where he had the unenviable task of replacing Zinedine Zidane as chief playmaker.

"More hair, less talent," read a banner Juventus supporters made to greet the Czech, but that attitude has now changed. He is now nicknamed Blonde Angel, or Czech Fury in reference to his petulance towards referees which he now tries hard to curb.

"You realise you have to be an example for younger players when you turn 30. You cannot afford to let the anger build at that age," Nedved said.

A left-sided midfielder with a powerful shot, tremendous skill, vision and pace, Nedved was the outstanding player in last season's Champions League.

But the fine line he walks between brilliance and disaster was all too well displayed in the semi-final where his superb goal to knock out favourites Real Madrid was overshadowed by a yellow card that forced him to miss the final.

But Czech coach Karel Brueckner has stuck with his influential midfielder through thick and thin, hoping Nedved can lead the team to victory.

That would be enough for Nedved.

"I would throw all the awards into a bag and exchange them for the European Championship title this year in Portugal," he said.
- Dusan Bucanek




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