Smicer hails strength in depth of Czech squad

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The Independent Football

The Czech Republic midfielder Vladimir Smicer fired a warning shot across the bows of the Euro 2004 hopefuls after his side cruised into the quarter-finals.

The Czech Republic midfielder Vladimir Smicer fired a warning shot across the bows of the Euro 2004 hopefuls after his side cruised into the quarter-finals.

The Czechs had already ensured their place in the last eight ahead of Wednesday night's 2-1 victory over Germany, which knocked Rudi Völler's side out of the competition. That win gave Karel Brückner's men nine points from their Group D campaign, all the more impressive after the coach rested nine of the men who had secured their passage into the next round with a memorable fightback against the Netherlands four days earlier.

They will now face Denmark at Porto's Estadio do Dragao on Sunday night, knowing they have a genuine chance of progressing to the semi-final.

Brückner's side arrived in Portugal confident they could make an impact, although just how comfortably they eased to the top of the group has caught many by surprise.

"It's nice, but now we start from zero," said Smicer. "The quarter-finals are a new competition and Wednesday night doesn't change things too much. We respect all the teams, but now we have sent a message that we are a good squad of players - it's not only about 11.

"We never expected that we could collect nine points after the three group games. In the game [against Germany] we finished the group really well. We played with a different team but the players who haven't played too much in the first two games showed they're good enough.

"It's an excellent result. Everyone thought maybe we were going to take it easy because we wouldn't be playing with the first-choice team, but the manager wanted to beat Germany. We have a bad record against them and we wanted to put it right and get a little revenge."

Brückner's decision to leave out Pavel Nedved, Jan Koller and Karel Poborsky was greeted with dismay in the Dutch camp when it was first mooted, and there were raised eyebrows when the coach retained only two of the men - Tomas Galasek and Martin Jiranek - who had started the previous game.

The writing appeared to be on the wall when Michael Ballack put the Germans in front after 21 minutes, but Marek Heinz's superb 30th-minute free-kick set the stage for the substitute Milan Baros to secure victory with just 13 minutes left on the clock.

Recovery has been a major theme in the Czech story to date after they fell behind to Latvia and the Netherlands before taking three points, but that is a measure of the confidence in the squad and the depth of talent at Brückner's disposal. Smicer puts his country's success down to meticulous preparations.

He said: "We were not really in great form in our friendlies just before Euro 2004 because we had a lot of injuries. Five or six players in our team had bad injuries, such as Milan [Baros], and I had some injuries. We had a lot of people not really fit.

"But we had a really great preparation and at the moment it's paying off. We worked really hard before the tournament and that's maybe why we're physically looking good."

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