Sports News

The Belgians, photo: CTK

By Ian Willoughby

The Belgians,  photo: CTK
The big story today - the Czech Republic have failed to qualify for the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea. The Czechs needed to beat Belgium by two goals in Prague on Wednesday night - the game ended, however, in defeat and even disgrace for the Czech Republic.

The Czechs piled on the pressure for the first twenty minutes - Vrastislav Lokvenc came close with a delicate chip while Karel Poborsky failed to convert from a narrow angle. After the opening spell, however, the Belgians came into the game more, and in the second half they repeatedly tried to catch the home side on the break.

Ten minutes from time it was nil all and the Czechs were still living in hope. Disaster struck however, when the home side conceded a penalty, which was converted by Marc Wilmots. And then - just when it seemed things couldn't get any worse - both captain Pavel Nedved and Milan Baros received second yellow cards and were sent off. Nedved - known to fans of his club Juventus as the Czech Shrew - received his second booking for swearing at the referee, and could hardly have ended the qualifying campaign on a lower note.

So, where did it all go wrong for the Czechs? Well, their passing wasn't always of a high standard and they seemed to have only one tactic - cross it in to Lokvenc and hope for the best. Tomas Rosicky didn't play as well he can and there was a severe lack of discipline and - it must be said - a lack of luck.

The Czech coach Josef Chovanec was booed after the game and faced a good deal of criticism in Thursday's press. It is unbelievable that Chovanec could not find the professional and human decency to resign immediately after the game, wrote the daily Sport.

I'm glad to say that there was one bright spot in Wednesday's game - the performance of Baros, who is only 19. He is something of a rough diamond - he was repeatedly caught off-side, protested every decision against him and was sent off after a stupid foul - but his ball control was great and he was the most exciting player on the Czech team. The Ostrava striker is expected to complete a move to Liverpool by Christmas.

As for the Czech Under 21s, they drew 0:0 at home to Croatia on Tuesday, and - having drawn 1:1 in Split - went through to the Under 21 European Championships under the away goals rule. The youngsters have scored some very impressive results on their way to the championships, so it's not all doom and gloom for Czech football.

Moving on from the beautiful game, the most expensive player in ice hockey's NHL, Czech Jaromir Jagr, was back in action on Tuesday following the recurrence of a knee injury. His presence wasn't enough, however, to prevent his team, the Washington Capitals, being hammered 11:5 by the Ottawa Senators.

And finally in domestic ice hockey, Sparta scored three goals in the last third to beat Vitkovice 5:2 on Monday evening to take the Tipsport Cup.