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Czechs have slight edge

Published: Tuesday 1 April 2003, 19.01CET
Czech Republic can cement their position at the top of Group 3 if they beat Austria on Wednesday.
Published: Tuesday 1 April 2003, 19.01CET

Czechs have slight edge

Czech Republic can cement their position at the top of Group 3 if they beat Austria on Wednesday.

By Jonathan Wilson & Ladislav Josef

The 1-1 draw between the Netherlands and the Czech Republic in Rotterdam on Saturday means that the top three sides in UEFA EURO 2004™ Group 3 are separated by just a single point.

Important equaliser
Astonishingly, the draw against the Dutch brought to an end a run of 15 successive wins for the Czechs in UEFA European Championship qualifiers going back to 1995. However, far from a disappointment, it was a valuable result, with Jan Koller's goal not only earning the away side a draw but also proving enough to move them above their opponents at the top of the group by virtue of their away goal.

Baroš impact
Substitute Milan Baroš made an instant impact, creating Koller's goal with his first touch and, despite requiring four stitches in a head wound, the Liverpool FC forward is likely to earn a starting role for Wednesday's home game with third-placed Austria.

Notable changes
Coach Karel Brückner believes he will need to freshen up his side for the match, saying: "We played an exhausting draw in Rotterdam, so it is necessary to spread the workload, especially as Austria had a day off on Saturday."

Rosický retained
Midfield player Jirí Jarosík is available again after serving a one-match suspension, and is likely to replace Tomáš Galásek. Playmaker Tomáš Rosický, however, will keep his place despite not yet regaining full fitness after a six-week injury lay-off. "His creativity will be very useful to open Austria's defence in the home game, which could be completely different from Saturday's match," Brückner said.

Cautious Krankl
Austria, meanwhile, go into the match in good heart having recovered from two goals down to secure a 2-2 draw in last Wednesday's warm-up match with Greece. Austria coach Hans Krankl was satisfied with his side's overall display, but played down their chances against the Czech Republic.

'Things to improve'
"We do not need to be very worried, but we have to correct a few things. The defence has to be firmer since any mistakes could be severely punished," said Krankl, who was at Saturday's game in Rotterdam and was impressed by what he saw. "I did not see any weak point in the Czech Republic's play. The defence is perfectly organised, while Jan Koller and Pavel Nedved are particularly dangerous. Our chances are small, but we will not give up in advance. Realistically, though, it can't be done."

Injury problems
Austria will be without defender Anton Ehmann who suffered concussion against Greece and will be replaced by Mario Hieblinger or Ernst Dospel. Roman Wallner, Dietmar Kühbauer and Harald Cerny are also all missing.

Dramatic intervention
Despite the disappointment of failing to take maximum points against the Czechs, the Netherlands found some consolation from the contribution of one of their own substitutes. Rafael van der Vaart replaced Giovanni van Bronckhorst after 39 minutes, and in first-half injury time found Edgar Davids in space, whose cross was headed into the net by Ruud van Nistelrooij for the opening goal. The 20-year-old Van der Vaart's dynamic performance has earned him a starting place in Wednesday's game against Moldova at Van Bronckhorst's expense.

Rapid rise
Van der Vaart has enjoyed a remarkable rise to prominence, and is the most high-profile of a crop of young players at AFC Ajax who look set to make the step up to international level. "With me, Andy van der Meyde and Wesley Sneijder coming through, we have a great set of young players," Van der Vaart told "This is an exciting time to play for the national side, with so many young players making their mark. We have a great chance of reaching EURO 2004™, and putting the disappointment of the [FIFA] World Cup behind us."

Three points essential
After the weekend setback, the Netherlands will be hoping to get their campaign back on track almost immediately when they visit the Moldovans, who have yet to gain a point from their first three matches.

Last updated: 02/04/03 11.07CET

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