Where's the glamour?

Spain's Marc Valiente (left) falls over Czech Republic's Marek Strestik during FIFA U-20...

Spain's Marc Valiente (left) falls over Czech Republic's Marek Strestik during FIFA U-20 quarterfinal action at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton on Saturday. (Sun Media/Darryl Dyck)

TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:45 AM ET

It's not, says Ladislav Smid, like the Czechs in a medal round hockey game from the world championships. Or like the big team at the real World Cup.

"This is U-20. You can't compare. But it's getting pretty big over here," said the young Edmonton Oilers defenceman from his home of Frydlant in the Czech Republic.

"People are staying up to 1:30 a.m. for the start of the games now. The newspapers have two or three stories every day.

"If they win this next game, I think it will be very, very big here. If we get to the final, it's going to be huge.

"I think many, many people are going to watch the game on TV from Edmonton to see if we do get to the final. I'll be up watching, that's for sure. It's a four-hour drive from the Austrian border, so I don't know for sure how it is over there. But I think it must be something like it is here."

IS THIS A LAME GAME?

In Edmonton, where Smid and Ales Hemsky spend their winters, the Austria versus Czech Republic semifinal matchup tomorrow at Commonwealth Stadium is being viewed as a lame game.

It's like the two nations have somehow conspired to devalue the FIFA U-20 World Cup by getting to the same game together, the winner to move on and devalue the final as well. There's no way to paint this as any kind of a glamour game, especially in comparison to the carnival of colour, emotion and expatriot passion that will be Argentina-Chile in Toronto.

"I read in a newspaper that it's New Jersey versus Minnesota. I had to ask someone what that means," said Czech coach Miroslav Soukup of the hockey reference.

"We are very happy with this matchup because it means one European team is going to play in the final."

Not since 1995 in Qatar have two European teams qualified for the semis of this tournament. Portugal and Spain were eliminated by Brazil and Argentina to create the dream final that year.

This is only the fifth all-European semifinal in the history of the event, the last way back in 1987 when Yugoslavia beat East Germany 2-1.

You can't even sell this as a decent border skirmish. They more or less like each other.

"It's not like in Scotland with Celtic versus Rangers," said defender Jakub Mares.

He said he's getting good vibes from back home.

"The only unhappy person is my girlfriend. She says she misses me so much being away so long, she's unhappy."

While the two nations may share that border, there isn't really a lot of soccer history other than a few friendlies.

The two have only met twice at the real World Cup, Austria winning 5-0 in 1950 and the Czechs 1-0 in 1990.

They've only met once in the FIFA U-20 event, the Czechs winning 4-0 in 1983 in Mexico. The Czechs scored a 3-1 win over Austria in the European qualifier for this event last year.

Properly promoted, I suppose, it's a novelty game.

I mean, when or where else in the world are you ever going to see Austria versus the Czech Republic in a FIFA semifinal?

The Czechs have never managed to get this far in this event before. The Austrians had never won a U-20 World Cup game until they beat Canada here in group play.

TOTAL UNDERDOGS

Austria hasn't been to a semifinal of a FIFA event since the 1954 World Cup when they were clobbered 6-1 by West Germany. The last time a Czech team managed to get this far was at Euro 2004 only to lose out to underdog Greece.

So who to cheer for?

With Hemsky and Smid home for the summer, one wonders if there is anybody from either the Czech Republic or Austria who lives here.

"Maybe we don't hear fans cheering in our language here, but we are enjoying playing here very much," said star striker Martin Fenin.

"There are so many people watching. For us, this is a surprise for Canada. At home we don't get this attendance."

Ondrej Kudela said they're loving it.

"In the Czech Republic 6,000 is OK. Here we get 20,000-25,000," he said of the 26,804-strong crowd for the quarter-final against Spain.

How about the east side stand cheer for Austria and west side cheer for the Czechs?


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