By Peter Smith
Starting with the Ice Hockey and it may seem extremely early to be doing so, but the Czech Ice Hockey Federation announced on Saturday their preliminary squad to defend the Gold Medal in Salt Lake City in 2002. Eight players from the NHL are named in the team, including - almost inevitably - the Pittsburgh Penguins star Jaromir Jagr and the Buffalo Sabres goaltender Dominik Hasek. Yes... he's still not retired. However, of more immediate concern to the Czech Ice Hockey Federation must be the threat of losing the right to stage the World Championships in 2003. The head of the game's International governing body, Rene Fassel, has admitted here in Prague on Saturday that several members of the IIHF are concerned over the delays to the building of the new Prague stadium for the event. As Mr Fassel pointed out, the threat to take away the Championships from Prague is very real... "I have some pressure from members of the federation - they are not so happy about what happened now with the new ice rink. One of the conditions was that they would build a new ice rink to hold the World Championships here, and I'm sorry to say that that doesn't seem to be going forward. We have to warn the Czech Federation that there could be a change in the May congress. We have Latvia, we have Canada as well as some others - they are very happy to jump in in 2003 to organize that championship," Mr Fassel said. Turning to World Cup football and the coach of the Czech national team Josef Chovanec was a relieved man after his side pulled off a somewhat fortunate 1-0 victory in Northern Ireland on Saturday. Pavel Nedved's strike in the 11th minute ensured that the Czechs stay top of their qualifying group with 10 points from four matches, however, the performance sometimes left a lot to be desired. "We adapted too much to their style of play," said Chovance later. "Their aggression caused us a lot of problems." The coach also did his best to keep the players feet on the ground about their lofty position in European Group 3. "Being first in the group doesn't mean we are the strongest team," said Chovanec, "There was little between the two sides." The Czechs face an even sterner challenge on Wednesday evening when Denmark visit Prague. The Danes are their closest rivals for top spot in Group 3 and are also unbeaten having recorded two wins and two draws in qualifying matches so far.