Of Gloom, Expensive Hotels, and Transport Problems

We’re back to Euro 2004 Group D: “Group of Death” analysis today, and it’s the turn of the Czech press, featuring an interview with Czech national team coach Karel Brückner, plus one with Czech team captain Pavel Nedved – plus more individual quotes from various figures. But the thing that I really wanted to show you I can’t, because it’s a copyrighted picture, capturing Brückner at the moment of last Sunday’s drawing, which appeared on the front page of Monday’s Mladá fronta dnes: He is shown there in Lisbon in his suit, with his FIFA badge around his neck, clutching his head in disbelief and amazement (although still smiling), and the caption reads “Ajajaj!” – which is Czech for Mexican, if you get what I’m saying.


In an interview later for MFD, Brückner took a very practical approach. Germany and the Netherlands are actually very good teams to be playing in the initial qualifying group, he asserted, because the Czechs already know them so very well. It should be possible to save a lot of time and money – no need to collect video cassettes of their performance on the field, no need to send spies to their games. (Yes, he really said this: posílat spiony na jejich zápasy. Brückner’s an old guy – a throwback, you could say, to the bad old days of the East Bloc. That doesn’t mean he’s been a bad coach, far from it.) On the other hand, he had some sharp words for the assembled journalists about that other team in the group, Latvia. In response to the observation that Latvia must be the weakest team, he said “Watch out now, we can’t underestimate the Latvians, it’s the first match [i.e. the Czechs play them in their very first match in Portugal], at that moment everybody will have the same chance. We’re speaking here only of the Germans and the Dutch, and that just won’t do, gentlemen.” Indeed, it’s clear that it will be necessary to take up a lot of that time and money saved not having to study the Germans and Dutch – because the Czechs already know them so well – and use it to study the Latvians, who came out of nowhere this year to attain their very first international football tournament.

Curiously, Brückner then made it clear that questions about accommodation were worrying him much more than questions about forthcoming opponents. He ventured that, if he had had a choice, he would have really preferred to play in Group B, with France and England – but not because he particularly wants to play those teams, but because they will all play in the South of Portugal, including Lisbon, whereas Group D plays in the North. That’s a problem, because the locations the Czechs had scoped out for housing their team in June have all been in the South. Brückner prefers not to have the team fly – although it was then pointed out to him that the Germans will also have their hotel in the South, in the extreme South, at Faro, and will fly to the North to play their games. Apparently for the Czechs it’s a cost thing – Brückner judges flying as too expensive – yet he is also not much of a fan of the highways that the official Czech national bus would have to use to get the team on time to its matches in the North, if it still wanted to reside in the South.

And then comes the article in MFD the following day (Footballers’ Hotel? Twenty-Two Thousand Czech Crowns per Night) announcing that a hotel has been decided upon, in the coastal village of Sintra, 35 km from Lisbon (i.e. in the South; by the way, these days that figure of Kc 22,000 comes out to €679/night or $814/night). That’s pretty steep, even for footballers (even though it is emphasized several times in the article that “it’s not the absolutely most expensive hotel we could have found”), which makes you wonder why Brückner thought air travel would be too expensive. Are we dealing with a hidden flight-phobia here? (Not unknown among footballers; for example former Dutch international Denis Bergkamp of Arsenal is famous for refusing to fly, and has missed important games because of this.) Looks like there is still that South-to-North transportation problem for officials at the Czech national football federation to solve.


Now we turn to that Pavel Nedved (Czech team captain) interview in Právo. It finds Pavel not in a very optimistic mood; the article is entitled “Once Again We Have the Worst Group.” Yes! And for the third time in a row, Nedved complains. (I don’t quite get what he means, but perhaps those who are better UEFA tournament historians than I can enlighten us.) But at least that means we’re not the favorites, he says, which is an advantage. Anyway, we have a good enough team that we don’t need to be afraid of anyone.

Then the interviewer asks him whether playing the Dutch again is an advantage or disadvantage. Disadvantage, he says (he would!): “We beat them, and they’ll want to pay us back, and with interest.” But at least it’s sure to be a good game. And about the Latvians: They’re only the allegedly easiest competitor, for the fact that they beat the Turks has got to say something about their quality. But they’re practically unknown – “so I don’t consider it an advantage that we’ll be playing them in the first match.” The Czechs could be taken by surprise; it would be better to let someone else play them first so they could really be examined. Anyway, Nedved really wanted to play the Italians – he plays for Juventus in the Italian Serie A, you see – and says he would gladly trade the Dutch to put them in the Czechs’ group. But ultimately Nedved is no more able to get the Italians as opponents as Coach Brückner is to move the team into Group B. You want to see the Italian team on the field, Pavel, just get your team into the semi-finals or the finals, where it is quite likely you’ll be able to play them – and that will be in the South!

Let’s take a quick look at coverage in Hospodarske noviny, which is the business paper but also often does quite a good job in covering sports and culture. Here again, Brückner expresses more concern about accommodation considerations than about who the Group D opponents are: he wants to be in the South. He also expresses his frustration that all three of the Czechs’ qualifying-group matches will start at 8:45 PM, which means a late, long trip home after each. (But in the meantime, he caught a break: the first game with Latvia was moved to 6:00 PM, since the authorities wanted to have the more-prestigious Holland-Germany game on that same day – June 15 – moved to the more “prime-time” time of 8:45 PM. Anyway, as the HN article points out, Brückner shouldn’t get too bent-out-of-shape about this “North” thing, since the Czechs will only play two games in the North, and at the same place: Aveiro. Their third game against Germany they will play in Lisbon.) Finally, in good financial fashion, HN reports the current odds for each of the 16 teams becoming champion, from the “Tipsport” agency: French on top at 5:1, Czechs and Dutch even at 8:1; Latvians bringing up the rear at 500:1.

Then there’s this heartening quotation-article out of Právo, entitled Experts Say: Watch Out for the Czechs. In it, football figures such as Portuguese football legend Eusebio and England coach Sven-Göran Eriksson warn that the Czechs indeed have a good team. Eriksson places Nedved in his league of likely stars at the tournament along with France’s Zinedine Zidane and Thierry Henry, Spain’s Raúl, Holland’s Van Nistlerooy, and Portugal’s own Figo; “it’s unbelievable,” he says, “how many goals he scores as a mid-fielder, and this in the Italian league.”

Finally, some other quotes, from out of Mladá fronta dnes:

  • Oliver Kahn (German national team captain and goalie, goalie for Bayern München): “I fear the Czechs. They have a fantastic team with players who earn their living in England, in Germany, in Italy. In the qualification rounds they managed to cope with the Dutch, which tells you something.”
  • Günter Netzer (former German national team player):“Luck abandoned Germany at the drawing. The Czechs are for me one of the favorites at the championship.”
  • Dick Advocaat (Dutch national team coach):“An unbelievably good drawing! We know our German rival well, and we’ve got something to settle with the Czechs.”
  • And, finally, Nedved again (he’s a good guy, folks; he’s not always this gloomy): “What do I say to the drawing? That it’s for the birds [actually, Czechs say it’s gone to mushrooms: je to na houby] and it couldn’t have been worse. Before the drawing I was hoping: Just don’t give us the Dutch or Italians. My wishes only came half-true, and I would gladly trade the Dutch for the Italians. We never have any luck at these drawings, and you saw this here once again.”
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