By Marcus Christenson and Paolo Menicucci
Pavel Nedved was charged with the unenviable task of replacing French master Zinedine Zidane at the heart of the Juventus FC midfield when he joined the Turin club from S.S. Lazio in the summer of 2001.
Many players would have crumbled under the pressure but Nedved, who is a self-confessed workaholic, reached top form during the second half of the season as Juventus overtook Internazionale FC to win their 26th Scudetto.
And he has carried that form into the new season, with Juventus among the early pacesetters in the Italian league and leading UEFA Champions League Group E with seven points from a possible nine.
Juventus's impressive performances in Europe this season have been particularly important for Nedved, who is adamant that Italian clubs will be challenging for the Champions League title in May following a few disappointing seasons.
'Year of the Italian clubs'
Nedved told uefa.com: "I think that the Italian teams this year want to show that we are not as bad as the last few years have made us seem. I think that this will be the year of the Italian clubs in Europe. We at Juventus will obviously try and go as far as possible and I wish the same for all the other Italian teams in the competition.
'New signings have settled in'
"Things are going well at Juve at the moment but I don't think there are any special reasons for that," he added. "It is just that all the new signings have settled in quickly and we are playing exactly the way we want to at the moment."
Juventus last won the Champions League in 1996 and, after winning the Italian championship last season, Nedved is in no doubt as to which title he craves the most. He said: "As a club we at Juventus don't have a preference but personally I would have to say the Champions League."
This season Juventus coach Marcello Lippi has alternated between using Nedved in a free role behind two strikers and in a wider position out on the left. Nedved has looked at ease in both positions and scored a magnificent goal against FC Dynamo Kyiv in the Champions League last month when he stole the ball in central midfield and danced past a defender before beating Vitaliy Reva with a thunderous shot.
'I play where I'm told'
The Czech international, who has earned more than 60 caps for his country, said: "Well, that shows that I can play in different positions and it is not really a problem for me. I can play behind the strikers but also in all the other positions in midfield. It is the same with the national team because with them I have played on the right, the left and in the centre. In the end I will just play where the coach wants me to play."
The Czech Republic missed out on the FIFA World Cup in the summer after losing to Belgium in the play-offs and are now hoping to start afresh in order to qualify for the finals of EURO 2004™ in Portugal. They have started well with wins over Moldova and Belarus in a group also including the Netherlands and Austria.
Nedved is confident that the Czech team have the qualities to reach the finals and believes that missing the World Cup could even work in their favour as they are desperate to make amends. He said: "We wasted two years when we lost in the qualifying round to Belgium, but now we have to start again in order to reach EURO 2004™. That is our main goal now."
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