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Madrid maestro faces Czech mate

After replacing him at Juventus FC, Pavel Nedved must now match Zinedine Zidane on the pitch.

By Simon Hart

Mission accomplished
The Czech international was the man signed by Juventus FC to fill the void left by Zidane's departure two summers ago. What might have struck many as a mission impossible has arguably become mission accomplished by Nedved, a different sort of player but one as important to the Bianconeri now as Zidane himself was not so long ago.

Freedom to roam
Where Zidane's artistry appears almost effortless as he floats away from one opponent and the next, Nedved is a busy, energetic presence in the Juventus midfield. Unlike Zidane, who made the play in central midfield for Juventus, Nedved operates from a starting position out on the left, albeit with the freedom to roam. He does this to great effect: he has scored nine goals from 28 starts in Serie A this season, four goals from 13 in the UEFA Champions League.

'Most important player'
The pair's paths will cross on Tuesday night when Zidane faces his old employers as Real Madrid CF welcome the Serie A leaders to the Santiago Bernabéu for the first leg of their Champions League semi-final. Holding court to the media ahead of the match, Zidane was forthright in his praise of Nedved, whom he described as Juve's "most important player".

Praise for Juventus
The French international said: "Juve are like Real Madrid. They'll always be Juve, even without Platini, Zidane, whoever. Now they have Nedved, who is the most important player in the team. He's a great player and he's playing really well. Obviously they're a bit different [in style], because he plays a bit wider than I do. [But] they're Juve, a great team, among the best in Europe.

'A good team'
"They're a team who defend very well and who count on three or four players who can make the difference. To be at the top in Italy for so long is very difficult and this must tell us they are a good team. It's not easy to win things in Italy and I know that from experience." Among those crucial players, Zidane believes, are Edgar Davids and Paolo Montero, whose absence through suspension "will be important".

Exemplary technique
Zidane spent five terms in Turin, winning two league titles, and was in the Juve side beaten in the 1998 Champions League final by Madrid. Zidane said he had not spoken to any of his old colleagues but added that he would be giving Montero his shirt after the return leg in Turin next Wednesday. Since moving to Spain to join Madrid's all-star cast in a €76m deal, he has already collected one Champions League winners' medal, last season when he underlined his exemplary technique with the volleyed strike that sealed Madrid's triumph against Bayer 04 Leverkusen.

Against the odds
Nedved - described by Madrid's Iván Helguera as Juve's "most complete player" - has also lived up to billing following his €41m move from Lazio. He played a pivotal role in Juve's title success last year and scored the opening goal in their 2-1 win at FC Barcelona in the quarter-final. Then the odds were against the Italians, especially after the second-half dismissal of Davids, and the Czech believes they can produce another surprise against Madrid.

'A tough match'
"The Spanish public won't bother us, as we've already shown against Barcelona at the Camp Nou," he said. "It will be a very tough match but we're not worried about the fact that we're not favourites." A mission impossible? There is no such thing for Nedved.