Nedved breaks free from Danish shackles

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The Independent Football

The trouble with having such shaggy blonde locks is that you get noticed even when you are having a bad game and for an hour that was Pavel Nedved's problem here in Porto.

The current European Footballer of the Year - he pipped Thierry Henry to that honour last December - was nothing more than a peripheral figure in this last of the quarter-finals until Denmark had fallen behind. Only then could he really prove his supposed £25m worth.

Annoyingly, for the knot of roughly 500 Czech fans tucked away in one corner and even more frustratingly for the midfielder himself, he was unable to get to grips with the demands placed on him at first by the Danes pinning him back with their patient football.

Not that he was alone in struggling before the interval as his team-mates failed to construct anything worthy of their reputation, until Jan Koller's simple goal gave them the advantage they scarcely deserved just after the break.

The Czechs were the only country to get through the group stages of Euro 2004 with maximum points, but against opponents as ungenerous and well-organised as Denmark, Nedved's team-mates look to him to prise open the most stubborn of set-ups. Instead, here it was, Koller's more earthy charms, at 6ft 6in, that earned the breakthrough.

The Juventus man has the technique to ghost his way past his opposite numbers and into the penalty box as he did after 57 minutes, nearly getting on the end of a free-kick by Karel Poborsky. Yet on balance the 31-year-old, who has recommitted himself to the Turin club after overtures from Chelsea - who else? - was not at the height of his powers, as proved when he was booked for tripping Jesper Gronkjaer needlessly.

But Koller's goal and then Milan Baros's first strike opened up the Danes like a can of Carlsberg and Nedved could run free, having been shackled for so long by Gronkjaer.

Nedved was an emerging talent when his country reached the final of Euro '96. Now some eight years and 80 caps on he is the figurehead of a side, but that brings its own difficulties too. Just ask David Beckham, Raul or Zinedine Zidane. Captains all, but Nedved, despite a largely indifferent game, still found time for a decisive pass for Baros's second to clinch the Czechs' place in the semi-final against Greece on Thursday back here in the Dragao Stadium.

There is one other crucial difference between Nedved and the aforementioned galacticos: he is still in Portugal. How they must be looking on with envy.

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