Can Czechs cope with loss of star players Baros and Koller?

Jan Koller, photo: CTK

In spite of missing their star forward Milan Baros, the Czech football team put in an impressive performance against the USA in their opening World Cup game on Monday. However, Baros's strike partner Jan Koller was stretchered off in that match; both are unlikely to play in the Czechs' two remaining group games and may not appear again in the competition at all. Can the Czech Republic cope with this double loss?

Milan Baros,  photo: CTK
When Milan Baros - the top scorer at Euro 2004 - picked up a knock in a friendly against Trinidad and Tobago on June 3 it did not appear serious. But the injury - a build-up of fluid in his foot - has been baffling the Czech team doctors; they say they simply have no idea how long it will take to heal. There have been reports - denied by the Czech camp - that a very upset Baros had even considered packing his bags and going home.

Meanwhile, his giant strike partner Jan Koller was taken off before half-time in the 3:0 win over the USA with a stretched ham-string. He definitely won't play in the remaining group games against Ghana on Saturday and Italy in a week's time. Doctor Jiri Fousek had this to say on Wednesday.

Jan Koller,  photo: CTK
"Basically, we can't say when he will get better. All injuries need time, and six weeks of complete calm, or even two months, brings some effect, even without treatment. But we are at the World Cup, and we have to try and get him back on his feet a lot quicker than that."

Koller, who is 33, looked somewhat deflated on Wednesday, saying he had at least managed to enjoy the atmosphere at the World Cup for 40 minutes.

For his part, the Czech captain Tomas Galasek says time will tell if his team can cope without their two star forwards.

Coach Karel Bruckner and Vratislav Lokvenc,  photo: CTK
"It is unpleasant, but everyone is important and there are 23 of us in the squad. I think we it will be clearer with every game if we can get by without Baros and Koller - we will have to act according to the situation. You can understand why people are a bit nervous, but we'll just have to deal with it."

Vratislav Lokvenc - almost as tall as Koller, but perhaps less good with his feet - came on as a substitute in the USA game, and it appears two options face coach Karel Bruckner: play Lokvenc from the start or replace him with, say, Jiri Stajner and possibly Libor Sionko.

But one shouldn't forget the likes of Pavel Nedved and Tomas Rosicky, the scorer of two goals in the opening game. With those two on the pitch Bruckner and the fans still have something to look forward to in the upcoming games against Ghana and Italy.