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CP: Canada vs. Czech Republic Preview

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Canada faces tough soccer challenge Saturday in Czech Republic


(CP) - Canada tackles one of world soccer's elite teams Saturday when it takes on the Czech Republic in an exhibition game in Teplice.

The Czechs have endured a roller-coaster ride in soccer in recent years. But they are on a high these days, ranked 11th in the world and breezed into the Euro 2004 finals by dropping just two points in qualifying en route to a 7-0-1 record. They outscored the likes of the Netherlands, Austria, Moldova and Belarus 23-5, beating the fifth-ranked Dutch 3-1 and tying them 1-1.

As a result, the Netherlands has been forced into a two-game playoff against Scotland, which opens Saturday in Glasgow, to crack the Euro championship finals field.

Having already booked their ticket to Portugal, the Czechs - currently riding an 18-game unbeaten streak - had some time on their hands this weekend, hence the date with modest Canada.

Interim manager Colin Miller says Canadian spirits are high going into the high-profile game. But he warns that Canada, currently languishing at No. 83 in the world in the low-rent soccer neighbourhoods of Ghana, Indonesia and Angola, had better be ready.

"In the Czech Republic, we play a truly, truly world-class opposition," Miller said Friday.

"The mood is very, very upbeat, very positive. The guys are under no illusions that if they show up with bucket and spades, and think they're on holiday, they will be in for a very difficult afternoon."

The Czechs look to have most of their stars in the lineup including Juventus star midfielder Pavel Nedved, one of the wizards of European soccer.

Liverpool striker Milan Baros is injured and Ajax defender Zdenek Grygera is getting married. Liverpool midfielder-forward Vladimir Smicer is doubtful through injury.

Sparta Prague midfielder Karel Poborsky, formerly of Manchester United and Lazio, can tie the Czech record of 90 caps if he sees action Saturday.

The Czechs have asked for permission to make eight substitutions, suggesting they plan major changes during the game.

The challenge continues for Canada next Wednesday when Miller's team takes on No. 15 Ireland in Dublin.

Miller has most of Canada's first-line players at his disposal, although youngsters such as Julian de Guzman and Tam Nsaliwa have been left out so they can help the Olympic team in qualifying action against El Salvador.

Goalkeeper Pat Onstad and striker Dwayne De Rosario have also been allowed to stay with the San Jose Earthquakes, who are involved in the MLS playoffs.

Midfielder Fernando Aguiar, who had been all but ignored by former coach Holger Osieck, had to drop out of the squad after his wife went into labour. The Benfica midfielder had hoped to make his first appearance for Canada since a 1999 outing against Saudi Arabia.

Captain Jason deVos, a force to be reckoned with in the Canadian backline, is back after foot surgery. After talks with Wigan manager Paul Jewell, Miller says he will restrict the big defender to 60 minutes of action Saturday.

Miller plans to start Lars Hirschfeld in goal with Richard Hastings, deVos, Kevin McKenna and Paul Stalteri in the back four. Stalteri usually plays right back for his German club team Werder Bremen although Osieck traditionally used him as an attacking midfielder.

The midfield with be Patrice Bernier on the right, Ante Jazic on the left and Daniel Imhof and veteran Nick Dasovic in the middle.

Everton's Tomasz Radzinski will be the lone striker with Sheffield United's Paul Peschisolido, who has been hampered by a bout of the flu this week, playing slightly behind him.

Canada was beaten 3-2 by Finland in Tampere on Oct. 11, Miller's first game at the helm, after falling behind 3-0.

Miller has applied for the permanent position of manager, but says he is a longshot. San Jose coach Frank Yallop is widely seen as the favourite to succeed Osieck, with an announcement expected before next month's World Cup qualifying draw.

Miller, however, has already played a key role by helping put some fun back into the national team after Osieck's somewhat rigid reign.

"I want them (the players) to enjoy what they're going to do," said Miller, a former Osieck assistant who has nothing bad to say about the German native.

"It could be worse. Who knows what they could be doing for a living. They're going to be play football (Saturday). The stadium is going to be a 20,000 sellout. It's live on TV here in the Czech Republic. It's a very special occasion and we cannot allow that to pass them by.

"But we cannot play and defend the way we did against Finland in the first half and expect to be successful here."


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I can't say I'm too optimistic about creating too many scoring chances against the Czechs with Nick alongside Imhof in the centre of midfield. Two destroyers at the centre of midfield, meaning that any of the attacks will likely have to come down the flanks. Unless Pesch is playing so withdrawn that becomes an attacking central midfielder. I had hoped that Bernier would be played in the centre, but nice to see him get the start over Nash (as we know what Marty can do).

Why not play Imhof at right back and Stalteri in the midfield?

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Neil said that the Czechs are on an 18-game unbeaten streak, but I think it's 20 games (16 wins, 4 draws).

In their last 8 home matches they are 7-1-0. What I find amazing is that they've scored 3+ goals in all but one of these matches, including against Slovakia, Yugoslavia, Sweden, Netherlands and Turkey.

All their results from 2003 (all Euro qualifiers except where indicated):

France 0 Czech Republic 2 (friendly)

Netherlands 1 Czech Republic 1

Czech Republic 4 Austria 0

Czech Republic 4 Turkey 0 (friendly)

Czech Republic 5 Moldova 0

Belarus 1 Czech Republic 3

Czech Republic 3 Netherlands 1

Austria 2 Czech Republic 3

As I've said before, the Czechs are as good as anyone else right now. In fact, they may be better than everyone else right now. And I think they are the best team we've faced since Brazil in 1994.

Of course, if they're going to make 8 substitutions (which they probably didn't do in their previous friendlies) then they probably won't perform as well as they could against us.

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quote:Originally posted by Gian-Luca

Why not play Imhof at right back and Stalteri in the midfield?

In another thread (http://www.canadian-soccer.com/forum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=1632&whichpage=2 ), I offer some brilliant (with all humility [:P]) reasoning as to why Paul should line up at right back. Unfortunately Miller only gets a 75% on the exam as he chooses to start Hastings at left back.

Seriously though, I do think that our back line is need of some serious sorting and playing McKenna and Stalteri while De Vos is in makes sense. Although I think Tam at Right back and Stalteri in the midfield is the preferred lineup, Paul is now my second choice at right back when Tam is absent.

With a solid back line and DD, Rad and DeG up front, I think we can be competitive and a threat to get a result with anyone. And I don't mean top 20 competitive, but good enough to score a goal or two, defend well and maybe surprise a few people. Sure, add Stalteri to the Midfield, and Tam at right back, and the chances are even better.

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