The Vltava is at its most majestic as it flows through Prague. Even when the storm clouds gather, the river sweeps on its unruffled way, broad, stately and powerful.
How the football community in the Czech Republic wishes that same calm strength could be transposed on to the national team. In the light of a thoroughly disappointing 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ qualifying campaign and the need for closure on an urgently-required rejuvenation process, the team currently finds itself navigating an uncertain course through choppy waters.
The Czechs currently lie fifth in Group 3 of European Zone qualifying, with eight points from six matches. Only San Marino are doing worse, hardly the kind of achievement to set the bars and clubs in Prague and the rest of the country buzzing with chatter.
The successors to the UEFA EURO 1996 runners-up have not entirely given up on reaching South Africa 2010, but a number of urgent issues need attention if they are somehow to feature at the showpiece event. The most pressing is the need for a consistent formation capable of assuming the mantle relinquished by the great side featuring Karel Poborsky, Pavel Nedved and Co. Only then can the current negative trend be adequately reversed.
One man who could play a decisive role in shaping a new generation is Vaclav Sverkos. The 25-year-old appeared at every youth level for his country and went on to captain the U-21 side.
The pacy goal-getter has been hitting the headlines in France of late. After switching to Sochaux in the winter transfer period, he scored eight Ligue 1 goals to guarantee his new club's top-flight status this term. Speaking exclusively to FIFA.com, Sverkos made no bones about his nation's plight in FIFA World Cup qualifying, calling for action now to stop the rot and sail into smoother waters.
"I'm utterly convinced we can still book a ticket to the World Cup," he declared. "If we'd stopped believing that, we shouldn't even be trying any more. But we have a series of tough challenges ahead, and the first step will be decisive."
The ambitious forward recognises that the away trip to leaders Slovakia in Bratislava on 5 September is the moment of truth. "If we win there, we'll qualify for the World Cup, because we have only home games left after that," he said.
Sverkos oozes refreshing optimism, perhaps the very quality the Czechs have lacked since their golden generation withered on the vine. Amidst turmoil on the coaching side, and after falling to 22nd on the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, association chief Ivan Hasek took over as head coach from the luckless Frantisek Strake a few weeks ago. His priority is bringing new, young blood into the team - not such a bad idea when you consider that Czech Republic finished runners-up at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Canada 2007.
Sverkos has what it takes to become a leader of a youthful but inexperienced side. He arrived in Germany while still in his teens, soon becoming a regular for Borussia Monchengladbach. He moved on in relatively quick succession to Hertha Berlin, Austria Vienna and Banik Ostrava, before switching to France, where he set about silencing the critics who claimed Czech players were unsuited to Ligue 1 [based on disappointing stints from Jan Koller and Milan Baros].
"That was exactly the reason I wanted to go to France. Now I'm determined to score my first goal in World Cup qualifying," he added.
Passion will be key
It hardly takes expert knowledge to appreciate that Czech Republic have a problem up front right now. They have only found the net six times in their six qualifiers to date. "If we want to be on the plane to South Africa, that has to improve," Sverkos conceded.
But what is the root cause of the problem? "In my opinion, a lot of it is down to the absence of our playmaker Tomas Rosicky with injury," he explained. " Furthermore, we've not yet established ourselves as a new generation."
Sverkos feels Hasek is the man to turn things around: "You see why he was successful as an international player. He has plenty to say, but he's always calm. The mood is already better than before."
It sounds like the right frame of mind in the build-up to the decisive Slovakia meeting, the game identified by Sverkos as the potential turning-point. After that, the Czechs entertain San Marino, Poland and Northern Ireland.
The situation is by no means hopeless, but Sverkos has a warning for his team-mates: "The Slovaks have a superb defence, with Martin Skrtel of Liverpool and Jan Durica of Locomotiv Moscow. And they beat us 2-1 in Prague, because they were more passionate than we were."
Passion is the quality Sverkos would most like to see restored to the national team. He himself is bursting with confidence after his exploits with Sochaux. Now, he is hoping for plenty of excuses to repeat the celebrations seen at UEFA EURO 2008, where he notched the first goal of the tournament.
"It was wonderful and I'll never forget it," the man with six caps to his name recalled. For all the dark clouds looming over Czech football, Sverkos for one exudes the same calm power as the mighty Vltava.