Sunday, June 04, 2006

#13: No Nickname!


Where? Central Europe, south of Germany and Poland, North of Austria.

How Big? Small. About the size of South Carolina. Population is pretty dense though. About the same time as Michigan.

Something I learned from the CIA Factbook: Very small item, but it caught my eye. One major natural resource is Kaolin. I didn't know anyplace else other than Middle Georgia had Kaolin. Now I know. I also learned that there are still lawsuits over property confiscated in WWII - something about Liechtenstein property there and expelled Sudetenland Germans.

Geopolitical significance... The location in the center of Europe means it'll always be an important land shipping route between East and West. After the fall of the Iron Curtain, the Czech Republic was probably the first satellite to modernize and westernize. Since then, the nation has joined NATO (odd because it not only doesn't border the Atlantic, but it's completely landlocked) and the European Union.

Fun... Budweiser is a Czech beer. Seriously. It's brewed in the town of Ceske Budejovice. The brewery there has been operating since 1265, and was at one time the Royal Brewer for the court of the Holy Roman Empire. The American Budweiser and the Czech Budweiser have been in trademark disputes for years, all over the world. The American Budweiser says the Czech one didn't start selling the beer commercially until 1895, after Anheuser Busch was brewing its Bud. The result is that in some countries, American Budweiser can only be sold as "BUD", while in other countries, the Czech Budweiser can't be sold as its name, like in the USA where it's sold under the name "Czechvar". I think I've had Czechvar before, just to see if it tasted like Budweiser. It didn't if I remember correctly, and in fact I wasn't a fan (I preferred Pilsner Urquell and Staropramen by far).


In a similar vein to the former Yugoslavia teams, the Czech Republic team history officially only started after the division of Czechoslovakia in 1994. The unified team was a dominant force in the early days of the World Cup, finalists in the first cup they entered. In 1962, the Czechoslovakia team also finished as runners-up. But after the 1968 Soviet invasion cracked down on the most liberal of the socialist nations, the Czechoslovakia team suffered greatly, failing to even qualify 4 times and never making it past the group stages (though they did a little better in the European Championship - winning it 1976 and semifinalists in 1980).

The division between Slovakia and the Czech Republic has been pretty one sided in who has fared better. Slovakia hasn't qualified for a single major international competition, while the Czechs are ranked second in the world, mainly due to their results as runners up at Euro 96 and Semifinalists in Portugal 2004. But the Czech Republic has never qualified on its own for the World Cup.

Qualifying this time wasn't a sure thing. The group they were drew in was one of the toughest - with traditional powers Romania and the Netherlands, not-completely-terrible Finland, and three minnows. The Czechs split with Romania (each side winning at home), but got swept by the Dutch - including a 2-0 defeat in Prague that could have allowed the Czechs to top the group. Instead, they finished second because of a slip by Romania. The Czechs drew Norway in the playoffs, and won both ends of the tie 1-0.

The team is made up of seasoned professionals playing in all of the top leagues in Europe, with a great mixture of veterans and younger players. Pavel Nedved in the midfield is one of those key veterans. Tomas Rosicky should be a real force in the midfield; he's a solid attacking midfielder who just transferred to Arsenal for a pretty big bounty. They should be pretty good there, even with the injury to Smicer. The upfront players should put fear in the hearts of every opponent because of their size, skill and quickness. Milan Baros always seems to play better when he's not wearing a Liverpool jersey, and all 6 feet and 8 inches of Jan Koller should make every opposing fan sweat for every corner.

But the man to watch above all others is Petr Cech. He is, in my opinion, the best goalkeeper on earth. He's tall, long and agile. No other player can single-handedly take over and control games like he can. I envision a performance like Oliver Kahn's in 2002. Totally dominant (even though I don't predict him to be...).

They were placed in a tough group, since the USA will not be a pushover, and Ghana isn't terrible. And Italy in a European World Cup is always tough. I think the Czechs get out of the group, but waiting for them as a prize is that weak sister Brazil. Harsh.

The opener is the USA. The size advantage for Koller could be trouble for the US. I think the Czechs get a goal early off a corner, but the USA equalize on a fre kick that gets blocked but put in afterward. Late in the game, the US doesn't want to give up a goal on another corner, so they pull down Koller in the box. Rosicky converts the PK, and the Czechs have a good start, winning 2-1.

The second match is against Ghana, and the Czechs use that height advantage again, but this time as a decoy. Baros scores twice as the defense focuses on Koller. Appiah gets the best of Cech though. Finally, Koller nets a header late for a 3-1 win. 6 points pretty much looks like the Czechs will advance. All they're looking for is a way to avoid Brazil by winning the group.

Italy doesn't comply, however. With their backs against the wall, and with the Juventus scandal festering, Italy hunkers down and finds a way to make it happen. Cech suffers a major letdown from his defense, and Italy plays rough. Italy scores twice in the first half, but the Czechs get one back just before halftime. A penalty late seals it for Italy though. 3-1. Cech is stunned. And that late PK actually tilts the group to Italy, sending the Czechs into the fire against Brazil.

The Brazil match turns out to be one of the best matches of the tournament, since it's a clash of strengths and styles. The Brazillians can't really handle the Czech size, and the Czechs take the early lead on a cross headed in. Brazil equalizes and goes ahead by two goals from Ronaldinho, who must run through Cech's nightmares. The Czechs incredibly equalize again, with Koller's second off of a corner. The match looks like it's headed for extra time, when late substitute Robinho breaks loose and sneaks a ball past Cech. Just like that, it's over, but everyone is impressed with the match.

So it's bad luck, mainly that the Czech Republic ended up in this group, though they could've played better (especially in goal). Of course, I could be completely wrong about all this, and Cech could not give up a goal until the semifinals. We'll see.

If the World Cup were March Madness, the Czech Republic would be... good conference team, difficult to defend because of size, but a little overrated too. Maybe Texas, but maybe not quite that good. Maybe Oklahoma State the other year.

This is the famous Budweiser Beer. We know of one other beer produced by one other brewer that has the same name. Beechwood aging... blah blah no cost to make, no price...