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Winners in 2002, the Czech Republic welcome Greece to Jablonec for the first instalment of their play-off tie on Friday aiming to extend an impressive record in qualification for the 2011 UEFA European Under-21 Championship.
Jakub Dovalil's squad blew away the competition in Group 8 with seven wins and a draw from eight matches, finishing a sizeable six points clear of second-placed Iceland. Greece also won their section − albeit in less stylish fashion − and are particularly strong in the air, a strength likely to cause Dovalil concern given he is unable to call upon lynchpin Marek Suchý, who has been called up by the seniors, and fellow defender Jacob Lensky because of injury.
"Greece have many tall players who are very dangerous at dead-ball situations, scoring five of their last six goals from set pieces," said Dovalil. While he muses over Greece's aerial prowess, opposite number Georgios Georgiadis will no doubt be making plans of his own to negate the threat of FK Jablonec striker Tomáš Pekhart, the seven-goal top scorer in qualifying.
Pekhart is likely to be partnered in attack by S.S. Lazio forward Libor Kozák, who is relishing the encounter as well as Tuesday's return in Tripoli Arkadia. "It's the most important part of qualification but I'm used to playing under pressure from my time with Lazio," explained Kozák.
While the hosts have concerns in defence, Greece's only absentee is suspended defender Anastasios Papazoglou. Though recognising the quality the Czech Republic possess, midfielder Giannis Papadopoulos is confident his side will rise to the occasion having topped a section which included England and Portugal.
"The Czechs have a great tradition in youth football," said the Olympiacos FC player. "However, we trust in our ability and we're eager to qualify for the finals.
We proved during the group phase that we have one of the best teams at this level. We are only two steps away from another success for Greek football."
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