With own team absent, many Czechs supporting Slovakia at World Cup

The Slovak team, photo: CTK

The Czech Republic’s soccer players failed to qualify for this year’s World Cup, and, like Czech fans, will be watching the football extravaganza on television. But with their own team not there, who will Czechs be supporting in South Africa? Well, Slovakia has finished top of a poll asking just that question: that despite the facts the Slovaks perhaps don’t always cheer for their one-time fellow citizens.

The Czech Republic did not reach the World Cup, after performing poorly in a qualifying group that was won by their former federal partners Slovakia, who will be making their debut in the competition in South Africa.

The Slovak team,  photo: CTK
Given the absence of their own team at the football extravaganza, who will Czech fans be backing at the World Cup? I spoke to a few on the streets of Prague.

Man 1: “Brazil – I’ve liked them for a long time”

Man 2: “Spain. They have the best players now.”

Man 3: “France. They are good, and they’re celebrities, football celebrities.”

Will you support Slovakia?

Man 3: “They are our brothers [laughs]. But there will be better teams, so I don’t support them.”

Man 4: “Argentina. I like Lionel Messi, and I like the team. I also support Slovakia, and I think they will get to the quarter-finals at least.”

In a poll just published in the popular Czech daily Sport, Slovakia received the highest backing among Czech soccer fans, with 16.4 percent of respondents saying they will be cheering most loudly for their former countrymen.

Václav Němeček
But would the cross-border support be as high if the Czechs were in South Africa, and the Slovaks weren’t? Perhaps not: since the two countries split in 1993, it seems to have become a tradition that the Czechs will happily support the Slovaks, though the opposite may not be the case.

Václav Němeček was in the last Czechoslovak team to play at the World Cup, in Italy in 1990.

“As long as we’re not there in South Africa, I’ll definitely keep my fingers crossed for Slovakia, unlike a lot of Slovaks who don’t keep their fingers crossed for us when they don’t qualify. But that’s there problem, and I’ll definitely be glad if the Slovaks get out of the group stage.”

Antonín Panenka is an all-time legend of Czechoslovak football. Now in his 60s, he is perhaps best known for the penalty that won the European Championship for Czechoslovakia in 1976.

“I still don’t regard Slovakia as another state. They’re the closest to us, we have very similar languages, we know many of their players, we watch their league on TV. I’m going to support them. I’m going to support the Spanish and the Brazilians too, because they play nice attacking football. We’ll certainly have plenty to enjoy.”

The Slovaks play their first ever game at the World Cup against New Zealand next Tuesday.