Greece is the word, but Czech pride undented

Pavel Nedved und Marek Jankulovski (Foto: CTK)

Ten thousand Czech fans on Prague's Old Town Square cheered "Hosi dekujem" - "thanks boys" - at the end of a match that broke Czech hearts. David Vaughan joined fans on the square just as the Czech's dramatic semi final against Greece in Euro 2004 began:

Czech fans on Prague's Old Town Square, photo: CTK
Fan 1: "The Czechs are going to win, sure thing. The score will be 3-2"

Who is your favourite player?

"Baros, Pavel Nedved. All of them are pretty good."

And you're not worried that the Greeks as outsiders might surprise us tonight?

"They won't. We are going to surprise them."

You're here in your kilts. Are you cheering for the Czechs tonight?

Scottish fans: "Of course we are. Definitely. The Czechs have got to win. It'll be 3-1."

Czech fans, photo: CTK
Greek fan: "I'm from Greece."

Don't you feel a bit intimidated here tonight?

Greek fan: "No, I'm surrounded by people who will protect me tonight..."

Scottish fans: "...big Scotsmen!"

Czech hopes dashed

Pavel Nedved and Marek Jankulovski at the end of the EURO 2004 semi final match, photo: CTK
The match got under way on a huge wave of optimism. The Czechs had enjoyed an amazing Euro 2004 - the only side to reach the semis with a clean slate, and winning praise as one of the world's great teams. We also saw a new Czech hero in the form of striker Milan Baros, who scored no less than five goals in the championship, a showing that will probably remain unmatched. And no-one will forget the Czechs' astonishing recovery to beat the Dutch from 2-0 down, or the match in the qualifying rounds, when a Czech b-side brought down the might of Germany.

But the outsiders Greece were always going to be tough opposition. On Thursday night, true to form under their German coach Otto Rehhagel, the Greeks played a tight defensive game, shackling the Czech attack, even after a thrilling moment when Tomas Rosicky hit the crossbar in the third minute.

Milan Baros reacts after missing a chance to score a goal, photo: CTK
When the inspirational Czech captain, Pavel Nedved, had to leave the pitch shortly before half time with an injury, Czech attempts to break through the crippling Greek defence were further hampered, and the outsiders were clearly gaining confidence.

The Czechs turned the screw in the second half, with chances from Jakulovsky and Koller, but after ninety minutes there was still no score.

In extra time, the Greeks seemed to go into a different gear, as if to prove that they don't just know how to defend as many claim, and in the end their determination bore fruit. Just seconds before the whistle, Trainos Dellas headed a brilliant corner past Czech goalie, Petr Cech.

Czech fan, photo: CTK
It was heartbreak for the Czech fans, and as I stood amid the crowd of ten thousand on Prague's Old Town Square, the mood was one of shock and desolation:

Fan 1: [manic laugh] "I feel very bad."

It's a shock?

Fan 1: "Very shock! I can't believe it."

This is a scene of devastation. I don't think I've ever seen the Old Town Square empty so fast. How do you feel?

Fan 2: "Disappointed."

Do you think the team should have played differently?

Fan 2: "No, they did their best."

It was just bad luck?

Fan 2: "Yes."

Czech fans at the end of the match, photo: CTK
Greek fan: "Fantastic! I think it's amazing. We did really, really well, I mean both teams played really well, but, you know..."

You'd better not say that too loudly... And you've got a very small Greek flag, which you're not waving very prominently.

Greek fan: "It's the biggest I could get away with."

English fan: "We feel for you. We supported the Czechs. We bought these shirts so that on Sunday, when you got to the final, we could have gone to our local pub and supported the Czechs."

Fan 3: [drunkenly waving a large Czech flag] "I feel happy! We didn't win, but I'm happy!"

You think it doesn't matter in the end?

Fan 3: "Yes, I don't mind."