Giving off an air of stern inaccessibility, Miroslav Soukup
can often be seen striding purposefully to press conferences, all
the while studiously avoiding looking anybody in the eye. Behind
these austere appearances however, the Czech supremo is a warm and
Blessed with a knack of unleashing the starkest truths
without batting an eye, Soukup belongs to a rare breed among modern
FIFA.com spoke to the man charged with
masterminding the Czech Republic's bid for a place in the last
sixteen just hours before the decisive clash with Panama. Up for
discussion were his gifted young team, the match against the
Canaleros and his highly individual way of living and
breathing the game.
Saying it as he sees it
Endowed with a level of honesty as unusual as it is refreshing, the 41-year-old coach does not pull any punches when it comes to discussing his team's performances. At the helm of the Czech U-20s for three and a half years now, he more than anybody knows his charges' strengths and limitations:
"The only way we were going to get a point against Argentina was by playing defensively and hoping our luck would hold. Fortunately, it worked." He continues: "If we'd taken that chance we had at the end of the game, it would have been wonderful for us but totally unfair. We didn't deserve to win that match."
The reasoning behind such a direct approach? "I'm a
football coach, and I need to be able to analyse situations and say
what I see, not what I'd like to be happening," he
explains, matter-of-factly. Logically, the next question regards
the encounter with Korea DPR in matchday two, when the Asian
champions levelled the game in the last minute. Was this just down
to bad luck, or a poor refereeing decision perhaps? Not a bit of
it. "We played well in the second half but we weren't able
to kill the game off and we paid the price for that with the
equaliser," says Soukup.
"It was a fair result, the North Koreans were piling on the pressure and earned a penalty. From where I was standing it's hard to say whether it was a penalty or not, but I personally think it was the right decision."
Far from ruling with an iron fist, and monopolising the decision-making process, the up-and-coming national coach likes nothing better than gathering his players together to discuss their tactics for the next game.
"They know me well and I know them, so it only seems right to ask their opinions before telling them how we're going to play," says the young tactician, who is married with one son.
Soukup and his gifted charges are therefore sure to devote
part of the build-up to the Panama game to discussing how not to
let a winning position slip away from them, and avoid a repeat of
Tuesday's match against the Koreans. "I admire those
coaches who respect their players, and who are willing to discuss
things. Now we've all got to pick ourselves up and come through
our next game. Our fate is still in our own hands, and that's a
A big fan of pool, and a recent convert to the stereotypical
footballer's pastime that is golf, Soukup first fell in love
with the beautiful game after watching Mario Kempes' exploits
at Argentina 1978. "Of course every team wants to win the
tournament, to be world champions," he answers, when asked
about his goal for Canada 2007. "But you've got to be
realistic, so we're just focusing on winning our next game and
earning a place in the last sixteen."
Only once his side are safely though to the knockout stages
will he turn to attention to the bigger prize: the world title.
"It would have been a dream come true to have beaten
Argentina. Now, let's see what the fates have in store for us.
It's in our hands."