Belfast Telegraph

Iceberg right ahead but Jarolim aims to steer clear

By Liam Blackburn

Czech Republic manager Karel Jarolim arrived in Belfast hopeful his team's World Cup qualification campaign is not about to sink like the Titanic. The Czechs face an in-form Northern Ireland side knowing a place at next summer's World Cup finals will be out of reach if they fail to win at Windsor Park.

One year on from a 0-0 draw with the Northern Irish in Prague, which was Jarolim's first competitive game at the helm, they are seven points adrift of Michael O'Neill's side and face a mammoth task just to claim a play-off spot.

With that in mind, 61-year-old Jarolim was asked by a Czech journalist if he feared his team were about to hit an iceberg in the city where the Titanic was built over a century ago.

"I hope not, it could happen but I hope tomorrow's not going to be the day," he replied.

"There's no time for any mistakes and we have to win but, on the other side, it's important to play a really good game tomorrow.

"We will do our best to get the three points and give ourselves a chance."

Twenty-one years ago the Czechs were finalists at Euro 1996 and eight years on they made it to the last four, but with the likes of Pavel Nedved, Petr Cech and Tomas Rosicky no longer around, Jarolim is presiding over a transitional period.

He has so far used 43 players in 11 contests and has tinkered with his preferred formation frequently too, having played a back five in Friday's 2-1 loss to the Germans in which the world champions needed an 88th-minute winner from Mats Hummels.

They will therefore be a very different proposition from the team that drew 0-0 with Northern Ireland 12 months ago.

"We are in the phase of finding ourselves," Jarolim added.

"After Euro 2016 a couple of players finished their international careers so we have a lot of new players and we are still finding our way. We have a new generation now so we haven't found the optimum level but I hope we are on a good way.

"I hope we can continue and show tomorrow that it wasn't just the one game against Germany that we can play well."

The Czechs topped a qualifying group that featured Iceland, Turkey and Holland to reach Euro 2016 and were seeded in the second pot when the draw for this campaign was made.

Yet they find themselves on the brink of elimination to a Northern Irish side that has accrued 16 points from a possible 21 and kept six clean sheets from seven.

"We're absolutely not surprised by them," insisted captain Marek Suchy.

"Before the start of qualification we knew that Northern Ireland were a strong team and we were expecting it."

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