By Rob Cameron
Ice-hockey fever is gripping the Czech Republic once again, with the start of the world ice hockey championship in Germany. The Olympic and world champions went into the tournament with high hopes, looking to be the first country to win a third consecutive world gold medal since the former Soviet Union began a five-year string of victories in 1978. And the Czechs' confidence was unshaken by the absence of many of the country's best players, including NHL stars Jaromir Jagr and Dominik Hasek.
The Czech Republic certainly began well, with a convincing 5-1 victory over Belarus in their group A preliminary round match on Saturday. It was Belarus who opened the scoring when Andrei Skabelka took a pass from Vasily Pankov and slipped the puck past Atlanta Thrashers goalie Milan Hnilicka. Belarus managed to keep the Czechs off the scoresheet for the first 20 minutes through some spectacular goaltending by Andrei Mezin, who fought off some 23 shots from the world champions. But the superior Czech team kept pushing until Petr Cajanek tied the game with a short-handed goal 2:53 into the second period. It was plain sailing from then on, with Martin Prochazka and Montreal Canadiens' winger Martin Rucinsky finding the back of the net. Tomas Vlasak and David Vyborny of the Columbus Blue Jackets tallied in the third period to complete the scoring.
Sunday, however, was a different matter. The Czechs escaped with a 2:2 draw in Cologne against hosts Germany, who are now virtually assured of place in the next round alongside their bigger Czech rivals. The Germans battled the Olympic champions to a 1-1 draw in the opening period. Viktor Ujcik drew first blood for the Czechs with a powerplay goal at 10:40 but San Jose Sharks' Marco Sturm, Germany's only NHL player, brought the hosts level 69 seconds later when he beat Milan Hnikicka with a blistering slapshot. With the noise from the home crowd nearly bringing down the roof on the Cologne Arena, Germany continued to take the contest to the Czechs in the second period and were rewarded with the go-ahead goal from Daniel Kreutzer. But New York Rangers sniper Radek Dvorak set up a thrilling final period when his low slap shot from just inside the blueline caught the inside post on Robert Muller just 68 seconds before the break. Czech Republic - Germany 2:2.
In soccer, and Lazio's Czech midfielder Pavel Nedved is considering his future with the Italian champions after admitting he had received approaches from other Serie A teams and clubs outside Italy. "At this point I don't think it is right to exclude anything - there have been approaches from Italy and from abroad and I can't ignore that aspect," Nedved told Italy's Gazzetta dello Sport last week.
And finally the results from Sunday's Gambrinus League matches:
Drnovice - Brno 2:2 (1:1) Synot - Pøíbram 0:1 (0:0) Plzeò - Olomouc 1:1 (1:0) Liberec - Sparta 1:1 (1:0) Ceske Budejovice - Jablonec 2:1 (0:0) Slavia - ikov 1:0 (0:0) Blany - Ostrava 3:0 (1:0)