People around the Czech Republic stayed up late on Wednesday night to cheer on the Czech ice hockey team, who - in an intriguing twist of fate - faced former federal partners Slovakia in the quarter-finals at the Winter Olympics in Turin. All the disappointment with the Czech Republic's poor results in the group stage were forgotten on Wednesday, as the Czech team finally gelled and won 3:1 to reach the semi-finals.
The Czech Republic were among the favourites to take ice hockey gold ahead of the Olympics, and there was consternation among many fans when they lost three of their five games in the group stage in Turin. Despite the presence of a number of star players, they really seemed to have feet (or should that be skates) of clay.
Slovakia, by contrast, surprised many by winning all of their group games and topping their group. Their great form and the strong rivalry between the two former partner nations certainly increased tension and interest ahead of the quarter-final clash.
Sport is often about peaking at the right moment, and it seems the Czech Republic got their timing better than Slovakia, as Jaromir Jagr and Co. finally began to look like a real team on Wednesday night.
Before the Olympics all the talk was about who would be in goal for the Czechs, the veteran Dominik Hasek or Tomas Vokoun, who was also in great form before the games. In the end, with Hasek injured and Vokoun out of sorts, Liberec goaltender Milan Hnilicka started an Olympic game for the first time in his career; he repaid coach Alois Hadamcik's faith with a man-of-the-match performance.
At the other end, Martin Rucinsky and Milan Hejduk both scored to put the Czech Republic 2:0 at the end of the second period. Marian Gabornik got one back for Slovakia in the third, increasing the tension once again. But he and his teammates didn't do enough to overhaul the Czechs' lead, and Martin Straka sealed the game with a final goal three seconds from full time making it 3:1 to the Czechs.
Afterwards Rucinsky - whose performance was his best so far - said the team had played as one for the first time, and had simply wanted to win more than the Slovaks. He admitted they had disappointed Czech fans in previous games in Turin, but said he hoped Wednesday's performance had finally brought them some joy.
Jana Ciglerová: Americans say their lives are fantastic, Czechs say everything is terrible – neither is true
Study: Demand for new flats in Prague set to keep outstripping supply
“There is good, better and then there is the USSR.” – New book depicts life in communist Czechoslovakia through memories of people who experienced it
CzechTourism head hints attracting tourists no longer agency’s main goal
“The only solution is political” – Organisers of major anti-government protests in Czechia announce plans for the future