Sports News

By Ian Willoughby

The coming week is make or break time for the Czech football team, as they face Belgium in a play-off for a place at next year's World Cup finals in Japan and South Korea. The first leg of this crucial tie takes place in Brussels on Saturday, while the return match will be played at Prague's Letna stadium on Wednesday.

The Belgian coach, Yves Vanderhaege, has reportedly told his players that the man to watch on the Czech team is captain Pavel Nedved, who he said was impossible to mark one-on-one. As for Nedved, the 29-year-old Juventus midfielder says the two play-off matches will be the most important of his career.

Thursday's sports pages were full of criticism of the Czech players for refusing to speak to the press ahead of the big games. Nedved and co say they want to concentrate on the task in front of them.

In the less glamorous world of the wrong end of the Gambrinus League, Blsany have become the third Czech first division club this season to change managers. Following seven defeats in a row, Miroslav Beranek has been replaced by his assistant Guenter Bittengel, a former Czech international.

Beranek said he would devote more time to coaching the Czech Under 21 team, who are preparing for two vital European Championship playoff matches against Croatia this coming week.

On to ice-hockey and The Czech Republic beat Finland 7:2 in Helsinki on Tuesday in the first match of the Swedish games - part of the Euro Hockey Tour. The Czechs were due to face Sweden in Stockholm on Thursday night and line up against Canada on Friday. They then play traditional foes Russia on the last day of the competition on Sunday.

In women's tennis, the Czech Republic have been taking on Russia in Group A of the Fed Cup in Madrid. Czech player Kveta Hrdlickova came from a set down to beat Elena Bovina 3-6 6-1 8-6 to get the Czechs off to a good start. However, Czech Denisa Chladkova lost 6-4 4-6 6-1 to world number 15 Elena Dementieva in the second match. That defeat was followed by another on Wednesday, when the doubles pair of Hrdlickova and Alena Vaskova were beaten 6-3 6-2 by Nadia Petrova and Elena Likhovtseva. The Russians are leading the group.