Czech philosophy puts team first

GEORGE GROSS

, Last Updated: 7:07 AM ET

Mental preparation, not so much physical fitness drills, are the key words for the Czech Republic's under-20 soccer team in today's FIFA World Cup gold-medal game against five-time champion Argentina at the National Soccer Stadium.

This philosophy, without even studying the teachings of Socrates, was told to me in an exclusive interview by the 41-year-old Czech coach Miroslav Soukup, who used to be a player and player/coach in Germany for 10 years between 1990 and 2000, topping it with a UEFA coaching licence.

"I told our players already in training camp to realize that we are not the strongest team in the World Cup," was his opening gambit. "I also made it clear to the boys that Argentina has won the World Cup five times, four times in the last 10 years.

"I tried to instill in them the knowledge that we cannot afford to introduce a team of individuals, but a team concept which can allow some individuals to shine. Moreover, I insisted that we have to play with moral principles and discipline. Luck also plays a role in these contests. But I also explained to the team that in order to be lucky, they have to do something for it."

The Czech football mentor went on to explain that against a powerhouse such as Argentina, a team has to have several tactical moves, depending whether the team is on offence or defence.

"I can't tell you the setup of our team under different conditions because the Argentine coaching staff could read it in the Sunday Sun tomorrow before the game and adjust their own team play," said the coach from Brno in the Czech Republic.

Soukup was in a relaxed mood yesterday before the team's mid- afternoon workout at BMO Field, while the South American team from Buenos Aires decided on an early evening workout at Upper Canada College, hoping that their $33- million star, Sergio Aguero, will play better than he did against Chile in their semi-final here on Thursday night.

I then asked the coach which two players he will depend on most in today's final. Feeling a bit squeamish, he said: "I would say goalie Radek Petr and captain Jan Simunek.''

Soukup shied away from any game predictions other than to say that the Czech team was able to battle Argentina to a goalless draw in the qualifying round.

He spoke, however, about the enjoyable time he and the team spent in various Canadian cities.

JUST LIKE HOME

"I loved Victoria, British Columbia," he said, "It reminded me of my home with the lakes, forest and mountains in the distance, but easily accessible. Victoria was the nicest city I saw, followed by Ottawa. I understand they are planning a pro soccer league in western Canada and U.S., with teams in Victoria, Edmonton, Seattle and some other cities.

"It would be nice to coach there."

Soukup also was full of praise for Rudi Bata, the 80-year-old head of the Czech delegation. Bata, of course, is well-known in Canada. He was on the ice as an official when Paul Henderson scored the Super Series-winning goal in Game 8 in Moscow 35 years ago.

"He is doing a fabulous job for a fellow of his age," Soukup said.

I'm certain he hopes the team will do the same today.


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