Czech football team gearing up for Euro 2004 semi-final clash with Greece

Tomas Ujfalusi and Milan Baros, photo: CTK

On Thursday millions of Czechs will be watching their national football team take on Greece in the semi-finals at the European Football Championships. The Czechs are now favourites to win the competition for the first time since their only previous victory in 1976.

Tomas Ujfalusi and Milan Baros,  photo: CTK
Martin Jiranek is the only Czech player out for the Greece game, after the full-back pulled a muscle in the 3:0 win over Denmark in the quarter-finals on Sunday. He will be replaced by original first-choice right-back Zdenek Grygera, who came in for a lot of criticism from coach Karel Bruckner after the first couple of group games.

The Czechs' other injury worry was central defender Rene Bolf, but he now looks set to play on Thursday.

Coach Karel Bruckner and Pavel Nedved,  photo: CTK
A bigger worry is the fact three of the Czech team - Pavel Nedved, Tomas Ujfalusi and Marek Jankulovski - picked up yellow cards against Denmark, meaning they would miss the final (assuming the Czechs get there) if they received another against Greece.

UEFA turned down a Czech football association request to review the original refereeing decision which led to captain Nedved's yellow card. Losing him would be the biggest blow to the Czech team: he is by far the best Czech player of his generation and the motor of the current team.

He famously missed last year's Champions League final with his club Juventus, after picking up a yellow card in the semi-finals. A repeat of that scenario at Euro 2004 would be a tragedy for the 31-year-old midfielder.

Big international tournaments traditionally lead to some players becoming big names overnight, and increasing their value on the transfer market. For instance, many of the Czech team which reached the final of Euro 96 were bought by foreign clubs soon afterwards.

This time around most of the Czech team are already playing abroad, but they too have benefited from impressing so many in the 'shop window' that is the European Championships. Tomas Rosicky, for instance, has apparently increased in value from eight to 15 million euros (he was said to be worth that a year ago, but had a poor season at his club Borussia Dortmund).

Milan Baros,  photo: CTK
And if some UK papers are to be believed, man of the moment Milan Baros - with five goals in four games - is now worth 20 million euros, four times what he was valued at at the end of last season.

Meanwhile, the Czech media has been gripped by 'Barosmania', with his tanned face appearing on the front pages of newspapers every day. The tabloid Blesk really went to town, with a front-page photo of the striker with his shirt off and the headline "Baros is God (and single)", along with interviews with female "celebrities" going on about how gorgeous he is.

Other papers have carried interviews with everyone from Baros's mother to the mayor of his home village of Vigantice to the old man who's been cutting his hair since he was a boy.