The Czech Republic’s footballers have gotten off to a poor start in their campaign to reach the 2010 World Cup. In fact, it’s their worst start to a qualifying campaign since the split of Czechoslovakia. After a scoreless draw in Northern Ireland last month, the Czechs were deservedly beaten 2:1 in Poland on Saturday night, with Petr Rada’s side at sea in midfield and toothless up front. Things did improve slightly towards the end of the game, when forwards Milan Baroš and Miroslav Slepička were replaced by Martin Fenin and Václav Svěrkoš. Indeed, Svěrkoš crossed for Fenin to head home his first international goal, a late consolation for the Czechs. The latter spoke to reporters after the game:
“We’re playing for our country, and for me it’s not a case of being cheesed off if I’m sitting on the bench. Of course, every striker is glad to score, and it was my first international goal. That said, it’s not as if I’m happy to have proven anything to anybody – I’m glad I scored, but I’m more sad than anything else.”
Martin Fenin and Co. will get a chance to make amends somewhat when they face Slovenia in Teplice on Wednesday. However, they may well have to do so without goalkeeper Petr Čech, who pulled a muscle in Saturday’s game. Coach Rada was already without players like Jan Polák and Tomáš Rosický.
The Arsenal midfielder was taken to hospital on Friday, complaining of a headache following an injection. Rosický last played in January and no-one seems to know when he will return after a ligament operation. What’s more, the longer he is out, the more questions are asked about whether he will ever return to top level football.
“Scandal, joy and tears” is how one newspaper headline described the 118th Velká Pardubická steeplechase, which took place on Sunday. It certainly was dramatic, with the apparent winner Amant Gris being disqualified for failing to take a turn; it was the first time the first horse to cross the line was adjudged not to have won the famous race in 108 years.
Amant Gris’s jockey's mistake was Sixteen’s fortune, when the horse – which also won in 2007 – was declared the winner some minutes after the end of the race. Sixteen, owned by film producer Jaroslav Bouček, was ridden by Josef Bartoš, who also rode the winner two years ago.
Sixteen’s trainer Josef Váňa retired as a jockey after Sunday’s race, in which the 55-year-old finished third on Juventus. Váňa has the record for winning the Velká Pardubická; of his five victories, four came on the horse Železník between 1987 and 1991.
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