Czech circle of life

DEREK VAN DIEST -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:41 AM ET

EDMONTON -- Their odyssey began nearly three weeks ago against the defending world champions.

Fate could bring it to an end opposite those same champions.

It was that opening game 0-0 draw against Argentina in Ottawa that set the stage for the Czech Republic's improbable run to the semifinals of the FIFA Under-20 World Cup. Today they'll face Austria (5:45 p.m.) at Commonwealth Stadium for the right to play in the final. Argentina meets Chile tomorrow in Toronto in the other semifinal.

"It was a very, very important game that first one against Argentina," said Czech head coach Miroslav Soukup through and interpreter yesterday. "If you were on the field in Ottawa that day you would have seen us celebrate like we won.

"It was very important to get that point. It would have been a very bad start if we would have, say, lost 4-0.

"It was much easier for me to motivate the team because we were able to get a point against the world champions. It would have been much harder for me to motivate the team if we lost that game."

The Czech Republic simply set out to survive their game against Argentina that opening day in Ottawa. They essentially dropped everyone behind the ball and defended for the entire contest.

Argentina had 29 attempts on net - six which hit the target. The Czech Republic had three attempts on goal - none on target.

"When we played Argentina, we knew it was going to be difficult to win and that the quality chances we would have to score would be minimum," Soukup said. "If you look at our lineup against Argentina, we used the most defensive-minded players that we had. We only used three offensive-minded players in that game. That's why we may have been harder to penetrate than in some other games."

That game was the only time the Czechs have shut out an opponent at this tournament. They went on to tie North Korea 2-2 and beat Panama 2-1 to advance into the second round.

From there, the Czech Republic defeated Japan on penalties after finishing in a 2-2 tie, then knocked off Spain in penalties after a 1-1 draw.

"Any time you play a defending world champion you want to try and earn a least a point against them," said Czech defender Marek Suchy. "We were able to get a point in that game and for us it was a very important result. It was a very important game and it influenced our games after that."

Argentina came into the tournament having won the last edition of the event in the Netherlands two years ago. They have also won the under-20 title a record five times.

That game in Ottawa was the only time Argentina failed to find the back of the net. They've gone on to 11 goals since then.

"Tying the five-time world champions Argentina was a very important start for us in this championship," Soukup said. "After that in the next few games we were able to use a few more offensively-minded players which we thought would be able to score some goals, too."

Added Suchy: "We didn't think that just because of this game we could now go on and beat anybody in this tournament. But we did feel good about ourselves."


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