Uhrin out of the shadows

the mysterious coach of the Czech Republic
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The Independent Online
So there will be no Jacquet required for the final engagement of Euro 96. And no Sacchi either. But someone called Dusan Uhrin has gate-crashed Wembley's big party.

The cognoscenti might consider Uhrin and his Czech Republic side unwanted guests, but the incurable romantics among us will welcome him as a Bohemian Bob Stokoe. He may not have the trilby but he is a true champion of football's underdog. The man who left Arrigo Sacchi red-faced and whose half- strength team out-shot Aime Jacquet's supposed untouchables was rated so modestly among Europe's coaches before Euro 96 that he might have been in charge of a third-class German club team today instead of arranging the national side's downfall.

The best offer Uhrin received before he signed an extended contract with the Czech federation in February came from Nuremburg, who have since been relegated from the Bundesliga's second division. But since Wednesday night, his deadpan face has become a familiar sight on German television. Suddenly, the German nation wants to know who he is.

The citizens of the Czech Republic would not be able to help them. Uhrin is regarded as something of a mystery back home. Quietly spoken and naturally diffident, he prefers to puff on his pipe in a quiet corner than spend time fraternising with the entourage that follows the national team. As a Slovak, he is said to feel ill-at-ease in the spotlight conducting press conferences in Czech.

But he does have the respect of his players and of the Czech people, in whose estimation he grew when he offered to resign after an embarrassing 1-0 defeat in Luxemburg 12 months ago. As a player, he rose no higher than the regional third division, with the southern Bohemian side Dynamo Kobylisy, but as a coach he guided Sparta Prague to two Czech titles before taking charge of the new national team when the Czech Republic and Slovakia separated in 1993.

That the Czech Republic's third and most recent defeat was inflicted by Germany in the opening Group C match of Euro 96 is dismissed as a coincidence by the 51-year-old Uhrin. He prefers instead to draw confidence from the considerable odds his players have overcome since that 2-0 reverse at Old Trafford three weeks ago, after which the bookmakers made them 150-1 for the championship.

"We made mistakes in the first match," he said. "But this is a different match and, hopefully, we have learned. We will certainly not be afraid of the German players. Five of our players are with Bundesliga clubs. That will help."

Miro Kadlec, the sweeper voted man of the match in the semi-final against France, took the same award in the German Cup final last month. The striker Pavel Kuka, one of the four Czechs suspended for the Old Trafford semi-final, was also in Kaiserslautern's cup-winning team. And Patrik Berger, who rose from his sick bed on Wednesday to provide a potent counter- attacking alternative to the dynamic Karel Poborsky, helped Borussia Dortmund retain the Bundesliga title.

Uhrin also takes encouragement from the suspension of Berger's Dortmund team-mate Andy Moller. "I think that will be a big help to us," he said. "Germany will still start as the favourites but we have surprised them in the past. Maybe we can do it again."

Berti Vogts will not thank his rival for evoking memories of the 1976 final in Belgrade. He was a member of the West German team beaten on penalties by a Czechoslovak side inspired by the Dukla Prague goalkeeper Ivo Viktor, who happens to beUhrin's assistant.

The Czechs were written off then as early as their opening qualifying match, which they lost 3-0 at Wembley. Maybe tonight will, after all, be a triumphant coming home of sorts.