Czech Skoda in pole position
© Foto-net

Czech Republic have taken a long and winding road to get to the semi-finals of the FIFA U-20 World Cup with two successive penalty shootout victories against Japan and Spain, but their coach Miroslav Soukup is making no apologies.

The Czechs were criticised in some quarters for adopting a negative approach en route to their last four clash with Austria in Edmonton on Wednesday and although Soukup says he can understand why it has not pleased everyone, he insists his methods were quite definitely the right ones, given the prevailing circumstances.

When Spain were frustrated by the defensive tactics of the Czechs after they went out 4-3 on spot-kicks in the quarter-final, their coach Gines Melendez said it was a "sad day" for football, but Soukup said he was not surprised by the reaction. Speaking exclusively to FIFA.com, he said: "It's normal that Spain were very disappointed that they lost to a team like ours and emotions can run high at a time like that. Sometimes the better team does not win."

Soukup has drawn the parallel that Greece won Euro 2004 by being defensive all the way to the title but the Czech boss denies that the Greek success has been a full-on inspiration to him at Canada 2007. "I wouldn't be happy to play that way all the time. I used to be a forward myself and I am an offensive-minded coach. I just had to adopt these tactics against Spain and it's not my usual style of play," he said. The same approach earned them a 0-0 draw against defending champions Argentina at the start of their Group E campaign, which also featured a 2-2 draw against Korea DPR and the 2-1 defeat of Panama which saw them through to the last 16.

Car comparison
The Czech coach metaphorically took to the road to draw an interesting comparison between football teams and different makes of vehicle to explain his thinking. "We are like the Czech car, the Skoda, whereas teams such as Spain or Argentina are more like the USA's Corvette. If we try to race them for speed on a long, straight highway we stand no chance. However, if we can get them on a road with lots of bends, twists and turns, then we might have better fortune. It was the smart thing to do. Some people don't like it but that's all we tried to do.

"When you compare the players that Spain and Argentina have with ours, of course they have higher quality but you also have to look at the comparative size of the countries as well. Czech Republic is small but Spain and Argentina are large. The Czech Republic has 10m people, whereas Spain probably has 12m footballers."

Soukup says he feels no more nerves than at any other stage of the tournament as he looks ahead to facing the Austrians at Commonwealth Stadium. "My feeling is the same as before all the other games so far in Canada because every match is important. It's not like a normal league game now because if you lose you are out. Having said that, this is the biggest game I have been involved in because I have never been in a world championship semi-final as a coach or a player, though even the match against Panama had the same kind of significance as this has because if we did not beat them we wouldn't be where we are now.

"From what I have observed of my players, the feeling is the same for them. They are just getting ready for the game. They are well aware of its importance but I can't see any difference in their attitude. I don't know what to expect from Austria because we know each other very well and the deciding factor will be which team produces their best on the day. Maybe it will be penalties again even but I feel like we have had enough luck so far in this tournament, so we would prefer not to have to depend on that all the time. I would rather win it in normal time."

Past success
Czech Republic arguably have the psychological edge after beating Austria 3-1 at last year's UEFA U-19 Championship in Poland, but Soukup said: "On the one hand it could be a little bit of an advantage that we beat them last year but on the other hand, if we had lost then it might have kept us more alert this time round to make sure they don't make the same mistakes."

Moving back behind the wheel for one last glimpse of what to expect from the Czech Skoda moving up to the starting grid against Austria, Soukup concluded: "I think our cars are pretty even, so let's start racing!"