Czech Republic not ready to go home
Tomas Rosicky: We will fight for our survival
WROCLAW, Poland ● Czech Republic captain Tomas Rosicky expects his teammates to fight for survival against Greece on Tuesday after a demoralizing start to the European Championship.
In the Czechs’ first match, Russia tore apart their defence to win 4-1 on Friday and go top of Group A. Now, at least a draw is vital in Wroclaw to remain in contention.
“I’m not ready to go home yet,” Rosicky said Monday. “We will fight to improve our reputation.”
The Czech Republic would become the first team to be knocked out of the tournament if it loses against Greece.
“We still have a chance to fix the damage,” the captain said. “We have a second chance and we will use it.”
Coach Michal Bilek, who is rebuilding his team following the retirement of key players like Pavel Nedved and Jan Koller, insisted Monday he trusted his team and claimed he doesn’t plan “any significant changes” in the starting lineup.
But he needs to fix the team’s porous defence after the loss to Russia, the biggest for the country since the Czech Republic was formed after Czechoslovakia split in 1993.
Bilek wasn’t ready to reveal his strategy, but made it clear the defence is his major concern.
“Our aim is not to concede a goal,” he said.
Greece has scored just once in three encounters against Czech Republic since 1993. In their Euro 2004 semifinal, Greece scored seconds from the end of the first 15 minutes of extra time to send the Czechs home. Greece went on to win the tournament.
“I remember that very well,” Rosicky said. “It’s still painful. But I don’t take the match as revenge. Both teams are quite different now.”
It’s unlikely Bilek would change his traditional lineup with a lone striker, preferably Milan Baros up front. But with the striker struggling in qualifying and the match against Russia, Bilek has to come up with new ideas if he wants to overcome Greece, which remains reliant on a solid defence.
With one draw already secured, Greece won’t be playing for another.
Ten-man Greece held co-host Poland to a 1-1 draw in the European Championship opener last week, and will next face the Czech Republic on Tuesday.
“We won’t play for a draw,” Greece coach Fernando Santos said Monday. “We will do everything to win the game.”
The 2004 European champions will be missing key defensive duo Avraam Papadopoulos and Sokratis Papastathopoulos against the Czechs, who lost to Russia 4-1 in their opening Group A match. Greece midfielder Giorgos Fotakis is also doubtful after picking up a right thigh injury Sunday, but rejoined regular training the following day.
If fit, Fotakis could relieve veteran Costas Katsouranis in midfield and allow him to provide defensive cover.
Santos, who typically plays with three strikers, said the Czech Republic’s opening loss to Russia had not changed his plans for Tuesday.
“They were in control for the first 20 minutes. They are fast, and compact and dangerous for us. We hope to counter their strong points,” Santos said. “I think that Russia has the advantage because they have three points. But if we go in thinking Russia has already booked its place in the next round, that will affect our game tomorrow. It’s too early to think about game permutations. Football is not mathematics.”
Greece beat the highly rated Czechs in the Euro 2004 semifinals with an injury-time header, and went on to win that tournament. But eight years later, Greek players are playing down any comparisons.
“They are a strong and quality team, and are present at the big tournaments,” said Dimitris Salpigidis, who scored Greece’s goal against Poland. “They have high quality footballers who play in big leagues. So we must be very careful.”
Greece heads to its second match at Euro 2012 with the country locked in a financial crisis and facing its second general election in two weeks on Sunday. League football has also been hit by a major bribery scandal.
“We’re very happy for Greeks to be back at a big tournament,” Greece goalkeeper Michalis Sifakis said. “Especially because of all the difficulties Greece is facing. It’s our duty to go for a win against the Czechs on Tuesday because this team has a lot of potential.”