Sports News

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By Vladimir Tax

Football first - and Sparta Prague has become the second team to qualify for the second group phase of the Champions League with a 2-0 win at Feyenoord Rotterdam on Wednesday. Sparta scored with a direct free kick from Jiri Jarosik in the 43rd minute and a header from Jiri Novotny in the 78th minute. Sparta has not conceded a single goal in their four matches in group H. They have guaranteed their place in the last 16 along with Real Madrid, who qualified on Tuesday.

Staying with football, and on Wednesday, the sport's international governing body, FIFA, published new rankings. The Czechs and Germans were the biggest movers at the top of the list, albeit in opposite directions. The Czechs, who play off against Belgium in November for a place at the 2002 World Cup finals, gained nine points to move up four places to the tenth, dislodging Mexico. By contrast, Germany, the three-times world champions, dropped to the 14th place, their lowest ranking since the list was introduced in 1993.

A quick look at tennis now - and both good and bad news for Czech men at the Stuttgart Masters Series tournament. Jiri Novak beat tenth-seed Alex Corretja of Spain 3-6 6-2 6-4 in their second-round match.

The day before, though, third-seeded Lleyton Hewitt saw off Czech Bohdan Ulihrach. The U.S. Open champion looked clumsy at times and threw away a 3-0 lead in the final set, but regained his composure to break the Czech at 4-3 on his way to a 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory in 1 hour 45 minutes.

Hewitt complained of the tennis balls being too heavy after the match. He said that apart from slowing the game, the heavy balls increased the risk of injuries because of the greater stress they put on the players' arms.

Women now, and Czech Adriana Gersi has not been doing particularly well at Eurotel Slovak Indoor Women's Tournament. She suffered a quick defeat in the first round on Wednesday by seventh-seed Nathalie Dechy of France 6-2 6-3.

Onto ice hockey and Ivan Hlinka, the former Czech Republic national ice-hockey coach, has been fired by NHL team Pittsburgh Penguins. Hlinka took the Penguins to the Eastern Conference finals last spring, but lost the first four games this season. The coach is best known for coaching the Czech Republic to a stunning gold medal triumph at the 1998 Olympics Games in Nagano, Japan, as well as two consecutive world championship titles.

And finally, a somewhat less frenetic sport. The Russian chess master Garry Kasparov is visiting Prague, and on Thursday and Saturday will play four Czech grand masters at Prague Castle. On Sunday, he will play a simultaneous game of chess in Brno. Garry Kasparov started playing chess at the age of five. He became a grandmaster at seventeen and the youngest world champion ever in 1985 at the age of twenty-two.