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The Czech Republic's meeting with neighbours Slovakia on Wednesday may only be a friendly but team manager Vladimír Šmicer knows it means a lot. "No one wants to lose a game of this stature," he told UEFA.com.
Since the separation of the former Czechoslovakia in 1993, the two national teams have come head-to-head on eight occasions. The Czech Republic hold the upper hand with four wins, but Slovakia have rallied recently, securing a 2-2 draw in Prague during 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifying, before prevailing 2-1 in the return fixture. "The rivalry is not as strong as it is in ice hockey, where matches are played more often, but there is pride at stake and no one wants to lose a game of this stature," said former Liverpool FC attacking midfielder Šmicer.
Wednesday's hotly-awaited encounter in Olomouc is sure to stir emotions for home coach Michal Bílek and Slovakia counterpart Stanislav Griga, both of whom represented Czechoslovakia and AC Sparta Praha during their playing days. "We used to play together so it will be a special occasion," said Bílek. "Stanislav and I were in the same team for a long time at Sparta and it's always great to see him, but I hope I will be the happier of the two of us after the game."
With the Czech ranks depleted by the absences of several senior figures, including Tomáš Rosický, Václav Pilař and Petr Jiráček, ten uncapped players will be jostling for a chance to sample the unique atmosphere of this fixture, including 20-year-old Sparta midfielder Ladislav Krejčí, whose loyalties may be somewhat divided. "It would be amazing to make my debut against Slovakia, especially considering that my mother is from Bratislava," he said.
"It is always an extra motivation to play against Slovakia – more than any other team," added Rosenborg BK's Bořek Dočkal, who has featured 17 times for the Under-21 side. "We know how much they want to win and that's all the motivation we need. It is a game with a certain edge and one which leaves a particularly special taste in your mouth."
The incentive is just as great within the Slovakia camp as FC Viktoria Plzeň duo Michal Ďuriš and Marek Bakoš prepare to face club team-mates Vladimír Darida and David Limberský. "We have only ever played against each other in training," said Ďuriš, adding with a smile. "If David Limberský marks me on Wednesday, he is in for a tough battle. All in a spirit of fair play, of course."
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