Pekhart: We can spring a surprise

It has almost become hackneyed ahead of major football tournaments for the Czech Republic to be declared many experts' outside tip for success. In the build-up to the FIFA U-20 World Cup Canada 2007 coach Miroslav Soukup's team duly rank as competition dark horses, especially in light of their progress to the 2006 UEFA U-19 European Championship semi-finals.

In the same year, the Czech U-17s made it all the way to their European Championship final, only to suffer a dramatic penalty shoot-out defeat to Russia. The individual whose string of outstanding displays and vital goals almost single-handedly propelled the Czechs as far as the final was Tomas Pekhart. The very same 18-year-old striker is now poised to make the trip to North America as the youngest member of his country's U-20 squad. Who is to say that Pekhart will not prove the Czechs' secret weapon when the world's best youths cross swords in Canada?

The attacking prodigy, unquestionably a little shy by nature, hit the headlines last summer with a switch from Slavia Prague to English Premiership giants Tottenham Hotspur, where the coaching staff are seeking to polish the rough diamond into a jewel. He was named best player of his year group in his home country in 2006, and has already opened his scoring account for the U-20s after just two appearances. welcomed the opportunity to interview the starlet. Tomas, the second most prestigious world footballing tournament kicks off in under two weeks. How are you feeling, tense or excited?
Tomas Perkhart: I'd say a little bit of both. On the one hand, I'm incredibly worked up and really tense when I think about Canada. After all, it's a very, very important tournament. But believe me, I'm totally looking forward to it. I was just delighted when I heard I was going.

Football opens up all kinds of wonderful opportunities to travel and discover new countries. What are you expecting in Canada?
I've never been to Canada, to be honest, but I've heard it's fantastic. And that's the reason it'll definitely be a brilliant experience for me personally. The people there love football. Now they're really looking forward to the biggest tournament they've ever staged. I hope we can play our part in football becoming even more popular in Canada, and experiencing a boom after that.

You rate as one of the most promising hopefuls in the Czech Republic, and people say you're destined for a great future. What does representing your country at the FIFA U-20 World Cup mean to you?
Obviously, I'm unbelievably proud of representing my country. It's a very great honour for me, but also it's because many of our greatest stars played in the tournament when they were setting out on their careers. Take Petr Cech and Jan Polak for example, they were both in Argentina back in 2001. But please don't misunderstand me - I'm not trying to compare myself to these players.

There's still the possibility that the football world could sit up and take notice of you if you perform well in Canada, which would be another step towards a final breakthrough. You've already gained experience at the highest level with your club in England...
I reckon I may be able to help our team with my experience of living and playing abroad. But I'm a long way off enjoying star status within the squad. Quite the opposite in fact, I'm younger than the rest. I'm just overjoyed to be going, and I'll do what I can to help us succeed.

How would you rate your team's chances in Canada?
(After a lengthy pause) I feel we probably won't win the World Cup, but we have a really good team and a number of excellent players, who are currently in great form. I have no doubt we'll give a very good account of ourselves. And at the end of the day, I reckon we have an excellent chance of getting through the group stage.

That's a very modest set of ambitions...
(Laughs) Let's wait and see. But there's one thing I can reveal. We've made good progress in recent weeks, and we beat Congo 2-1 [ Pekhart scored the winner - Ed.]. We're aware we have a huge opportunity to show the world we're good footballers. And let me say this: we have a couple of genuinely great players.

It sounds as though the Czechs are yet again an excellent outside bet for the title. Who do you regard as top favourites?
I have a simple answer to that one. It's definitely Argentina, the defending champions. And would you believe it, we have to play Argentina in our opening match. After that match in Ottawa on 30 June, we'll know more about where we stand. Who knows, maybe we can spring a surprise.

Tomas Pekhart, many thanks indeed for an excellent conversation, have a wonderful time in Canada, and best of luck for a successful career.