Czechs await opening game of Euro 2008 against Switzerland

Photo: CTK

We're now just a day away from the start of the Euro 2008 Football Championships in Austria and Switzerland. The Czech team will of course be there, and is in fact playing in the tournament's opening fixture on Saturday evening. I went and found out how Prague is gearing up to mark the events and found out what expectations people in the city have of their national side.

Photo: CTK
I'm standing here on Old Town Square with the usual bustle of passing tourists and locals around me. The place should look very different on Saturday evening however, with the forthcoming installation of a big screen TV for public viewing of the Czech Republic's games in the Euro 2008 Football Championships. The national side is set to get the tournament underway against co-hosts Switzerland on Saturday evening. It is expected that thousands will flock to take advantage of the screen here, and another which is to be set up on Wenceslas Square, to watch the games. There'll be Czechs, of course, but also numerous tourists, too. It should provide for a great atmosphere as everyone gets behind their teams as the tournament begins. I spoke to a couple of Czechs about how they thought the team would perform this summer:

So what do you think your chances are at Euro 2008?

"I heard that Pavel Nedvěd isn't playing- he's not in the national team. But without him there are still plenty of strong players like Jan Koller. So I think they might cause a bit of a surprise."

Do you know anything about the Czech football team at Euro 2008? How do you think they're going to do?

"Well, you know, we've lost Rosicky, so it is going to be hard, but I hope that our team spirit will make it happen."

Photo: CTK
As well as people out and about in Prague this week, I also spoke to British-born Prague based Czech football pundit Sam Beckwith, who shared his thoughts on how he expected the Czechs to do and what it means for the country to see their national football side involved. Like the people I spoke to on the streets around the city, Beckwith seemed to be fairly cautious about the country's chances, feeling that maybe the side wasn't as strong as in previous tournaments:

"I think that probably the team at Euro 2004 was the best Czech team. You had players like Pavel Nedvěd at his peak, Karel Poborsky, and Vladimir Smicer. I get the impression that the side has been in a sort of steady decline since then really as that generation of players has aged and the younger generation, of players not quite meeting those standards, has moved into the national team. So, I'm slightly pessimistic about the chances at these European Championships."

So how far do you think the team will get in the end? How do you feel about it personally?

Photo: CTK
"I think they'll probably get out of the group phase but I can't see them getting much further than that - if I was forced to guess I'd say probably a quarter-final exit for the Czech Republic."

Who would you tip for the tournament yourself this year?

"I'm absolutely terrible at predictions, but I suppose the obvious choices are Germany and Italy. I have a strange feeling that the Dutch and maybe Poland would do quite well, but that's probably not going to happen!"

How important do you think this tournament is to the country? I mean, the Czechs love their ice hockey, they also love their football; do you think we'll see thousands of people turning out to watch the matches on the big screens in the city? What sort of atmosphere do you predict?

"It'll be a big deal. I think there will be a lot of people out - particularly if the team does well. And I imagine that if they get past the quarter finals it will become quite a party atmosphere in Prague. It has been in the past, for previous European Championships, and when the Czech team won the gold medal in the ice hockey at the Winter Olympics in Nagano - so it is a big deal. People do care about it, but they keep it well hidden sometimes. But when it comes down to it there will be some passion."

And the Czech side is still ranked, what, sixth in the world at the moment, and has been as high as second?

"Yes, it is, and when you consider it is just a country of 10.5 million people, this is astonishing really."