Pavel Nedved has played down suggestions that the Czech Republic are the favourites to progress from tonight's semi-final against Greece. "I don't like strong words," the captain said. "Those who said such things are watching from home now."
The 31-year-old continued: "We only want to confirm that we have the ability to play good football. Nothing more. We prefer to be more reserved as we know that there are no clear favourites or outsiders left in the competition." Nedved played in a 0-0 friendy draw against Greece in April 2002, but believes the Czechs' Estádio do Dragão opponents "are much better now".
Nedved attributes the absence of Europe's glamour nations from the UEFA EURO 2004™ semi-final lineup to the demanding nature of domestic football in those countries. "Their key players were exhausted after hard seasons with their clubs," said Nedved, who plays in Italy for Juventus FC. "They lacked drive and I can identify with that."
'Hungry to play'
In contrast, a number of the Czech Republic's key performers suffered injuries last season which limited their involvement at club level. Chief among those were Milan Baroš and Tomáš Ujfaluši, absent for five and three months respectively with ankle and knee ligament injuries, although Tomáš Rosický still plays with protective strapping after breaking his arm. "It could be to our advantage," said Nedved. "The boys are hungry to play."
Nedved was part of the Czech team which finished runners-up at EURO '96™, and the one eliminated at the group stage four years ago. "We didn't play badly in 2000," he said. "But this team is much better. The young players from the Under-21 squad have brought a lot of fresh quality. This team has a great future." Nedved also confirmed that he will play on until the 2006 FIFA World Cup.
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