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Hosts heating up for U21 EURO opener

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime occasion," said Czech Republic midfielder Ladislav Krejčí as excitement mounts in the host country 48 hours before the tournament curtain-raiser.

Czech fans queue up to meet their heroes
Czech fans queue up to meet their heroes ©Ondřej Zlámal

The Czech Republic squad are raring to go as excitement builds towards the UEFA European Under-21 Championship kick-off on home soil on Wednesday.

Coach Jakub Dovalil and his players will step out at Stadion Eden in Prague to face Denmark in Wednesday's Group A opener — a match that marks the hosts' return to this level after an absence of four years.

They can expect to be backed by the majority of the 20,800-strong sell-out crowd that will pack into Slavia Praha's home as they set out on the road  that they — and their passionate supporters — hope will lead them full circle back to Stadion Eden for the final on 30 June.

"Almost everywhere you can feel that a big event is going to start," Sparta Praha midfielder Ladislav Krejčí told UEFA.com. "There are adverts on TV, billboards, fans are talking about it, it is great to see that such a big tournament is going to be played in our country. For all of us, it's a once-in-a-lifetime occasion.

"I needed 30 tickets for all our games, I hope all my family will be in the stands and also a few of my friends. I'm afraid 30 will not be enough in the end as everybody wants to go. I expect the supporters to push us forward, but at the same time, they will want to get the right results, and see good football from us. They will expect the highest commitment and for us to have a successful tournament."

That will depend, to a significant degree, on the form of Krejčí, and his Sparta team-mates Pavel Kadeřábek — who was named the Czech top flight's player of the year last season — and Václav Kadlec. Collectively, the trio have amassed 34 caps for their nation's senior side, and the competitive edge they have honed will be crucial in Group A, where their rivals also include Serbia and a formidably well-stocked Germany squad.

Kadlec will be missing through suspension for the opening game, a potentially costly legacy of the squad's unsuccessful attempt to qualify for the 2013 final tournament in Israel. Despite the loss of their most potent forward, Krejčí believes the hosts can put a smile on their fans' faces.

"We know our games are sold out. I hope there will be a great atmosphere and our fans will enjoy a great event," he explained after seeing some 200 fans turn up to the squad's training ground for an autograph session.

"Opening matches are always very important, but if something goes wrong in this one, we are not going to give up on everything. But, of course, it is much better to start with a win, get the fans excited and in the right mood."