Posted June 06, 2012 on AP on Fox
Tensions between the Czechs and Russians have largely evaporated in the decades since Soviet troops led a Warsaw Pact occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1968. But they live on in sporting arenas - particularly ice hockey rinks - and will be renewed Friday at Wroclaw's Municipal Stadium, just hours after Group A rivals Poland and Greece kick off the European Championship in Warsaw. Czech Republic team manager Vladimir Smicer has fond memories of the countries' last meeting at a European Championship, in 1996. He scored a final-minute goal to salvage a 3-3 draw that was enough to put the Czechs through and eliminate Russia from a tournament where the Czechs finished runners-up. If the Czechs are to reproduce that run to the final at Euro 2012, coach Michal Bilek will need striker Milan Baros to be fully fit. The Galatasaray star strained a muscle in training Tuesday and is struggling to be ready for his team's opener, although a scan Wednesday showed no major muscle damage for the 30-year-old Baros, who has scored 41 international goals. ''He doesn't have to train,'' Czech Republic goalkeeper Petr Cech said. ''If he plays and scores, that's fine.'' Baros, Cech and captain Tomas Rosicky, who has recovered from a calf injury, are the undisputed stars of a young Czech team that is rebuilding after the retirement of several long-serving internationals, including all-time leading scorer Jan Koller and midfielders Pavel Nedved, Karel Poborsky and Smicer. Cech must be hoping 2012 will never end after helping his Chelsea team beat Liverpool to win England's FA Cup and following up with the Champions League title so long coveted by owner Roman Abramovich. Cech was the hero of the Champions League final against Bayern Munich, saving penalties from Arjen Robben in regulation time and Ivica Olic and Bastian Schweinsteiger in the shootout. ''A success at the championship in summer would be great,'' Cech said. ''I would be really grateful if I could win a medal with the national team.'' Russia, coached by Dick Advocaat in his first and last tournament before moving to PSV Eindhoven, is taking a 14-match unbeaten run into the match and hoping to go one better than the team that reached the semifinals four years ago, under another Dutch coach, Guus Hiddink. Russia is largely untroubled by fitness worries apart from first-choice keeper Igor Akinfeev, whose left knee injury has played up and could prevent him starting Friday. Advocaat insists Russia has only an outside chance of claiming the European title that the Soviet Union won at the inaugural European Championship in 1960, and his players agree even as they ooze confidence on the training ground. ''Let's not forget that Poland are the tournament co-hosts, so there is a lot of attention on them,'' Russia midfielder Igor Semshov said. ''Greece and the Czech Republic are outsiders who can strike at any given moment, so we have to be alert. ''And, of course, the first game plays an important role: everything kind of depends on what we encounter then, because how you start is also how you finish.''
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