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The Czech Republic return to the Estádio Municipal de Aveiro tonight, hoping to book their place in the last eight of UEFA EURO 2004™ by beating the Netherlands for the second time in nine months.
When the two teams met in Prague in September, goals from Jan Koller, Karel Poborský and Milan Baroš gave the Czechs a 3-1 win and sealed automatic qualification for Portugal, condemning the Dutch to the vagaries of the play-offs.
All three of their goalscorers that night are likely to feature this time around too, although the attacking potential of the Dutch, compared to the Czech Republic's first opponents Latvia, means that coach Karel Brückner will probably restrict striker Baroš to a place on the bench, in favour of his Liverpool FC team-mate Vladimír Šmicer.
Šmicer is likely to take his place on the left of a five-man midfield, but with only AFC Ajax's Tomáš Galásek a recognised holding player it can hardly be described as a defensive lineup. With Pavel Nedved, the reigning European Footballer of the Year, Tomáš Rosický, perhaps a future winner of that award, and the evergreen Poborský there will be plenty for the Dutch rearguard to ponder.
One area of concern for the Czechs is the fact that Koller, likely to play up front on his own, has failed to score in any of their warm-up matches since qualification was achieved, and if they do struggle Baroš will almost certainly come on, either instead of, or alongside the lofty Koller.
Meanwhile René Bolf, the AJ Auxerre-bound central defender who might have been relied on to shackle Ruud van Nistelrooij, will miss the game through illness and is likely to be replaced by the less experienced David Rozenhal of Club Brugge KV. Better news for Brückner though is that full-back Zdenek Grygera will almost certainly be fit to start.
The Dutch are as enigmatic as ever, blessed with the kind of talent throughout their squad that is the envy of all the other nations, but cursed by their inability to do justice to it. No opponent can take them lightly, because if they get it right they can destroy any team; but they nevertheless go into this game as slight underdogs following their unconvincing display against Germany on Tuesday.
Any thoughts that Dick Advocaat was also considering a tactical switch, bringing back Patrick Kluivert to partner Van Nistelrooij in attack, with FC Internazionale winger Andy van der Meyde making way, were effectively quashed by the Dutch coach yesterday evening. "I will play with one central striker, if I would play two strikers I would make myself look ridiculous," Advocaat said.
Cocu in defence
One of the problems of having so many talented players at his disposal is deciding on the best lineup, and a number of possibilities have presented themselves. After yesterday's training it seems that Phillip Cocu will move to the centre of the defence in place of Wilfred Bouma, who is struggling to be fit.
Clarence Seedorf may take Cocu's place in midfield, Arjen Robben, who joins Chelsea FC for next season, could replace Boudewijn Zenden on the left while Paul Bosvelt, a late addition to the Dutch squad, may be brought in to do a man-marking job on Nedved.
Czech Republic (probable): Cech; Grygera, Ujfaluši, Rozehnal, Jankulovski; Poborský, Rosický, Galásek, Nedved, Šmicer; Koller.
Netherlands (possible): Van der Sar; Heitinga, Cocu, Stam, Van Bronckhorst; Bosvelt, Seedorf, Davids; Van der Meyde, Van Nistelrooij, Robben.
Referee: M Mejuto González (ESP).
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