PREVIEW : Denmark, Czech Rep fight a battle of small nations

Associated Press

Lisbon, June 26:

The Czechs may be the new Euro 2004 favourites, but it’s a role they shun. Five other so-called favourites have made early exits, and the Czech Republic doesn’t want to be next in Sunday’s quarter-final against Denmark in Porto’s Dragao stadium. “The championship starts all over again for us,” said goalkeeper Petr Cech, whose team has fallen behind three times - and won all three: 2-1 over Latvia, 3-2 against the Netherlands, and 2-1 vs Germany fielding a “B team” of nine reserves. “We mustn’t try our luck again and concede as first,” said assistant coach Miroslav Beranek. The Czech Republic has the tournament’s most exciting attacks and Denmark, which eliminated Italy when it drew 2-2 with Sweden in the final group game, is one of the best organised teams. With seven goals scored, the Czech Republic’s offence is one of the most explosive at Euro 2004. But the team also suffers from poor defending, a problem it hasn’t been able to resolve since the start of the tournament.

“It’s all or nothing now,” said Dortmund playmaker Tomas Rosicky, who will team with midfielder Pavel Nedved and striker Jan Koller. “Do not expect wild attacking. There’s too much at stake.”

Nedved has recovered from a minor knee injury and should start in his favorite position on the left of midfield, pitting him against Danish defender Thomas Helveg. The two know each other well from Italy’s Serie A, where Nedved plays for Juventus and Helveg for Internazionale. The Danes have only beaten the Czechs once in 18 matches, but they’re in a confident mood following the 2-2 draw with Sweden on Tuesday. They are relishing the prospect of repeating a dream run of 12 years ago, when they went on to win the title after getting a late invitation to the European championship following Yugoslavia’s expulsion under UN sanctions. “We are playing a very strong team but we also have a strong team,” Danish coach Morten Olsen said. Olsen said he wasn’t worried about Czech starters having effectively four more days of rest by sitting out the game against the Germans.

“We’ve had one more day of rest now than between the group games. I am not worried,” said Olsen, who took his team to the Round of 16 at the 2002 World Cup. His only injury worry is Schalke striker Ebbe Sand, who has a right hamstring injury. “If we can reach our top level, we can beat any team in the world. It’s a tough competition. It’s tough to get into the quarterfinals, the level is very high. The so-called smaller nations are getting bigger and Denmark is such a nation,” Olsen said. “At this stage, it’s always a 50-50 game. The Czechs are playing very well. They are one of the best teams here. We have to prepare to run for 90 minutes,” he added.