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With a 2-0 victory already posted against the Czech Republic in the UEFA European Under-21 Championship, the easy assumption is that the French will be delighted to be facing them again in tonight's final.
Not preferred opponents
However French coach Raymond Domenech has insisted that the Czechs are not his preferred opponents. Asked whether his players now enjoy a pyschological advantage, Domenech responded with an emphatic 'Non'. "I would rather have been facing Italy exactly because this situation leads to that kind of question and gets into the minds of the players," he explained.
History does not count
"There is motivation for the Czech team having lost to us before. Yet we have not yet met the real Czech team - the team that beat Italy in the semi-final. Although the result of the first game is in the history books effectively it does not count for tomorrow’s game," he said yesterday.
Both teams should be at full strength for the Basel encounter that promises to be a closer affair than their first confrontation in Geneva on 16 May when goals from Sidney Govou and Olivier Sorlin gave an early indication that the French would be the team to beat at this tournament.
Czech coach Miroslav Beránek has a problem of who to leave out in the striking department. Although Milan Baroš, Tomáš Jun and Stepan Vachousek have not been among the goals they have all performed creditably. And if, as expected, they line up in the St. Jakob stadium with the same 4-5-1 formation that served them well against Italy then Michal Pospíšil, whose two goals proved decisive three days ago, could again start on the substitutes' bench.
Last game for Beránek
"There is an old saying that you should never change a winning team," said Beránek. "But I have so many good offensive players that it will be hard to choose the lineup." Win or lose it is Beránek's last game in charge. From next season he will be combining his position as head coach of SV Slavia Praha with assisting the senior Czech Republic international side alongside Karel Brückner, a partnership that proved successful when they guided the 2000 U21 team to the runners-up position.
Victory would be sweet
Victory tonight would be especially sweet for the Czechs given their 2-1 defeat by Italy in the final two years ago. "They are two different teams [now and in 2000] but both use the same style, the style of Karel Brückner," Beránek said, before warning that France are more than capable of repeating their one and only victory in this competition in 1988. "The French team is a stronger team than the Italian team that we met in 2000 in Bratislava," he said.
Beránek explained the improvements that his team have made over the last two weeks by pointing out that at the beginning of the tournament he had only enjoyed a brief preparatory period with his squad - ten players, for example, were contesting the Czech Cup Final just three days before the start of the tournament. "We had a very short time to prepare and not all our key players were fit at the start," he said. "During the tournament we have been able to give them some rest and now we are all ready and looking forward to the last game."
The final offers France a marvellous opportunity to hold European titles at both senior and U21 level at the same time - the first occasion any country will have achieved that particular honour. Previous representatives of teams at this level have included the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Robert Pires, Thierry Henry and Vincent Candela but Domenech feels it will be another two or three years before it is evident whether the current generation will be able to scale the same dizzy heights as their predecessors.
Looking to the future
"Candela was a player that I only took initially as a replacement because of injury," Domenech said. "Then he went on to play in the Olympics. It all depends on which clubs they go on to play for, it's important for them to play for big clubs."
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