By Ladislav Josef and Paolo Menicucci
The Czech Republic must overturn a 2-1 deficit at home to Italy to reach the final round of the UEFA European Women's Championship for the first time - but they face a tough task against play-off rivals who have never failed to make the last eight of the competition.
A fortnight ago in Crotone, Italy raced into a two-goal lead through Tatiana Zorri and Alessia Tuttino within the first half-hour. But Pavlína Scasná struck a minute after the interval to give the Czechs a vital away goal and hope for Saturday's return in Caslav.
However, defender Dagmar Urbancova was sent off in the first leg and she is suspended along with her FC Bayern München club-mate Scasná and AC Sparta Praha's Alexandra Mouchova, both midfield players. Scasná, the daughter of Panathinaikos FC coach Zdenek Scasny, is a crucial player for the Czechs. Her father said: "It is a big blow for us as Pavlína is in outstanding form. She scored for Bayern again last Saturday."
Czech goalkeeper Zuzana Malcova-Poincová has a shoulder injury, with Pavlína Plachá ready to stand in. However, Iva Mocová, the leading scorer in the Czech league with SK Slavia Praha, is available after serving a one-game ban.
Italy coach Carolina Morace has far fewer selection worries, although Valentina Lanzieri has been ruled out through injury. Striker Patrizia Panico staked her claim for a starting place with a hat-trick for Torino Calcio in the 5-0 win against Athena Recale Calcio in the Coppa Italia last weekend.
But Morace is not complacent and believes that either side could seal a place in next year's finals in England. "A 2-1 home win is a dangerous result in a two-legged tie so we will have to play a great game," she said. "I'm concerned the weather will not help us as the Czech players are more used to playing when it's so cold. However, if we keep our focus and try to avoid mistakes, I'm confident we can reach the finals."
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