The Czech Republic meet Greece in the second of Euro 2004 semi-finals, with the winners set to face hosts Portugal in Sunday’s final.
For one player in particular, tonight promises to be a nerve-racking encounter. Pavel Nedved, the captain and inspiration of the Czech team, was booked in the quarter-final tie against Denmark, and he knows that another yellow card would rule him out of the final.
“It is very difficult for me,” said Nedved.
“I have to go softly in this game, but I am always so enthusiastic to give a total performance that I cannot do anything else. It is a big risk, but I have to give my best as I always do.”
Nedved missed last year’s European Cup final for his club Juventus against Milan after collecting two yellow cards in the semi-final against Real Madrid.
“I missed that final and had to sit and watch it,” he said.
“Of course, I don’t want that to happen again. But I always give my best and in this semi-final I want to run and run.”
Czech Republic coach Karel Bruckner has dismissed suggestions that victory in tonight’s game is a formality.
“Greece beat the hosts, Portugal, and the title-holders, France. I don’t agree that they rely only on destructive play,” said Bruckner.
“They showed an attacking mind in the opening game against Portugal and they’ve had more time to rest than us.”
“I regard Otto Rehhagel as a very good coach and the results of the Greek national team just go to prove it.
“He had to play in a very difficult group against Spain and the other teams and he must be good for the Greeks to get the results they have obtained.”
Czech central defender Rene Bolf has shaken off a knock and is fit for the semi-final against Greece.
Bruckner is still waiting on the fitness of right-back Martin Jiranek, who suffered a thigh muscle injury in the quarter-final win over Denmark.
Greece coach Otto Rehhagel has acknowledged that player for player, the Czechs look the stronger side.
“I hope we will have enough strength to face the Czechs,” said Rehhagel.
“We always concentrate on our next goal, but we have lost a lot of energy both physically and psychologically.
“The Czechs have the best players in the tournament – I won’t tell you what I will do, but I have a precise plan to stop them.”
“We are extremely glad that we have been able to give so much joy and enthusiasm to the people back in Greece.
“The most important thing is that we are in the semi-finals and that is very important for Greek football and also very important for young people in Greece.”
Greece will be at full-strength, with Stelios Giannakopoulos now fully fit and Zisis Vryzas back from suspension.
Vryzas is expected to replace Demis Nikolaidis, while Angelos Basinas is likely to make way for Giannakopoulos.
Ultimately, much will depend on how Greece handle the goal threat from Milan Baros, the tournament’s leading scorer with five goals to date.
Baros is looking to emulate the achievement of Michel Platini who scored in all five games at the 1984 tournament.
Traianos Dellas has been detailed to mark Baros and his efforts to curb the threat from the Liverpool striker, may be the pivotal factor tonight.
Tonight’s match also marks the retirement from international game of referee Pierluigi Collina.
Collina turns 45 in February, the mandatory age for retirement at international level.
Czech Republic: Cech, Grygera, Ujfalusi, Bolf, Jankulovski, Poborsky, Galasek, Rosicky, Nedved, Koller, Baros.
Greece: Nikopolidis, Seitaridis, Dellas, Kapsis, Fyssas, Giannakopoulos, Katsouranis/Basinas, Karagounis, Zagorakis, Charisteas, Vryzas.
Referee: Peirluigi Collina (Italy)