Cech fired by painful memories of defeat

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The Independent Football

It was easy for the Chelsea players to resist celebrating too hard after capturing the club's first Premiership title for 50 years. After all, many had the memory of last season's defeat in the semi-final of the Champions' League burning in their minds. And that was a sobering enough thought.

For their goalkeeper Petr Cech, also, there is a similar experience to erase. He may have only joined last summer following his £7m transfer from Rennes, but the 22-year-old goalkeeper arrived after the numbing shock of enduring the Czech Republic's surprise defeat to Greece in the last four of Euro 2004.

"I don't want to feel the same thing I felt [then]," Cech said yesterday ahead of tonight's semi-final second leg against Liverpool. "It was a bad experience. I was very disappointed."

His feelings are, even now, hard to express and not just because of his natural diffidence. For him, as with the others, it makes reaching the final of the European Cup all the more necessary despite their other triumphs.

The celebrations, after beating Bolton Wanderers at the weekend, were limited to the dressing-room. Little more than one hour later, the bottles were corked and minds were concentrated again.

"Because we know what we are playing for it was not a problem," Cech said. "Since yesterday [Sunday] we've been thinking about the game tomorrow because we can do one more step, and there are some players who can remember the feeling after the game against Monaco [in last season's semi-final]. They don't want to repeat that."

The victory over Bolton means, Cech said, that Chelsea can "play without the pressure of the championship". But there will be pressure enough, although he shrugs at the thought of the Anfield reception.

"I think it's going to be the same kind of game as one week ago because we know each other very well," Cech said. "It will be our fifth game this season against each other and I think you cannot then surprise your opponent."

In two of those matches - the League Cup final and the first leg at Stamford Bridge - the Czech international made vital, world-class saves. In the first he denied Steven Gerrard, then it was that wonderful full-length dive to turn away Milan Baros's header.

His contributions this season have, indeed, been consistently extraordinary. Few now doubt he rivals Juventus's Gianluigi Buffon as the best in the world. Many believe he has already surpassed him, while no one disagrees with the decision that he deserves his place ahead of Carlo Cudicini - who was, probably, the Premiership's best keeper before Cech's arrival at Stamford Bridge.

The statistics alone - 27 clean sheets including 1,024 minutes in the Premiership without conceding a goal - are astonishing. Then there is his formidable 6ft 5in frame and even more formidable temperament. At Chelsea, Cech is regarded, in more ways than one, as a "safe pair of hands". Little wonder he was one of the three players from the club shortlisted for the PFA Player of the Year.

There has been one anomaly. While in the league Chelsea have only conceded 13 goals in 35 matches, and are on course to beat Arsenal's Premiership record of 17 against, they have been more vulnerable in Europe, letting in 12 goals in only 11 games - including seven in two matches. They won both those ties, of course, against Barcelona and Bayern Munich, but Cech said the difference was not just down to the quality of the opposition.

"I don't think we play different games in Europe," he said. "Against Bayern Munich in the previous round we played well but we couldn't stop conceding goals." He added: "The Champions' League is a different competition from the Premiership and you always have a different referee. Sometimes in Europe with the aggressive style of playing you can concede goals. With the English referees in the Premiership the referees let you play more aggressively.

"This is maybe the reason. If you don't want to commit a foul then you have to play more carefully and maybe your opponent can have one or two metres or one or two seconds more to control the ball."

Another clean sheet tonight, which would be his first in this competition since November, and he believes Chelsea will go through.

"We need to score one goal," Cech said. The implication is that he will do the rest. Penalties, a possibility, are not in his thoughts, but he adds, "I think we have enough quality and a good squad to score so I don't think it will be penalties. When it comes, I'm ready".

The confidence, he said, comes partly from having Jose Mourinho as manager. "He's got a lot of experience, having won the Champions' League last year," Cech said. "He can help out with the pressure and everything."

Not that Cech appears in need. Pressure, it seems, is something the Chelsea goalkeeper is well capable of dealing with.