Opportunistic Czechs

DEREK VAN DIEST -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:29 AM ET

EDMONTON -- The Czech Republic have taken more penalty kicks at the FIFA Under-20 World Cup than any other team in the tournament.

More importantly, they have converted more penalty kicks than any other team in the tournament.

That's the main reason the Czechs have made it to the semifinals of the event.

"The most important thing is that a player wants to take a penalty, especially in a shootout," said Czech head coach Miroslav Soukup through an interpreter yesterday. "It tells you that the will is there and they're looking forward to taking the shot. On the other hand if a player doesn't feel like shooting, but a coach tells him to, that could be trouble.

"I admire all those players when they decide in this critical time that they want to go and shoot a penalty and they are brave enough to do so."

To this point in the tournament, the Czechs have taken 11 penalty kicks - including those in a shootout. They have converted all but one of them.

Their accuracy from the penalty spot is what led them to victories over Japan in the second round and Spain in the quarter-final, becoming the second team in Under-20 history to win two consecutive shootouts. In 1977, the U.S.S.R. defeated Uruguay and Mexico in consecutive shootouts to win the title.

Tomorrow the Czech Republic faces Austria in the semifinals (5:45 p.m.) at Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium.

"I don't really care who takes a penalty kick in a game," Soukup said. "I want players to be accountable to make those decisions during the game. That's why I let them decide who takes the kicks in standard situations."

In their victory over Japan, the Czech Republic were down 2-0 with just over 15 minutes to play when they were awarded a penalty kick for a foul inside the 18-yard box. Ondrej Kudela coolly stepped up and put the ball into the net giving his team a lifeline. They were thrown another three minutes later when a second foul in the box gave them another penalty kick opportunity. Jakub Mares converted to tie the game.

"It's not that I didn't want to take the second penalty," Kudela said. "It's that (forward) Martin Fenin, who has some influence over who takes the kicks, suggested that Jakub Mares go and take the second shot. He said it was difficult for the same player to go and score two penalties in a row. It was the right decision because Mares scored."

In the penalty shootout against Spain, Tomas Pekhart scored the goal which stood up as the winner when keeper Radek Petr stopped Spanish defender Gerard Pique on the final shot.

"I admire Thomas Pekhart," Soukup said. "He hit the goalpost in the shootout in Victoria against Japan and he still asked to be in the penalty shootout against Spain.

"We were very happy because he went and scored in that game."


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