For Team Europe, a win this afternoon over the Czech Republic would practically assure it a spot in the World Cup semifinals.
Practically, because it wouldn’t guarantee anything. Even with a win, there’s still a slight chance that a team could fail to advance from the group with a 2-1-0 record, and Team Europe has to play the Canadians on Wednesday.
But after shocking the Americans, 3-0, on Saturday, a Team Europe win today, combined with a Team USA loss to the Canadians tomorrow, and coach Ralph Krueger’s squad would be officially through.
“We’ve come here to play nine periods, and like everybody else, we want to play next weekend,” Krueger said Saturday. “That was from the get-go the reason for us to be here. We didn’t see ourselves as just a sideshow, ever.”
Many had counted them out after they struggled to keep up with Team North America in exhibition play. The Europeans looked old and slow against the kids, and maybe even a bit disinterested. Of course, as the Finns found out last night, keeping up with the kids is one tough assignment.
“Well, if you look at our exhibition games,” said Slovak goalie Jaroslav Halak, “obviously the first two games, they didn’t go as planned, and we all knew we had to get better and in what areas we had to improve. Playing Sweden the last exhibition game, it was a good test for us, and I think for the most part we did a good job. We stayed as a unit of five, and I think the key is staying most of the time, out of the box.”
The challenge for Team Europe against the Czechs will be to avoid a letdown.
“We didn’t just come here to have one nice game,” said Krueger. “We came here to compete and be around next weekend. So now we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
The Czechs, meanwhile, will be playing for their tournament lives, after getting blown out, 6-0, by the Canadians on Saturday. They’ll look to recreate the enthusiasm and confidence of the first 10 minutes against the favorites, while forgetting what happened in the last 50.
“I believe we were ready to play,” said coach Vinny Prospal. “But after the first goal, it almost seems like we stopped playing and started making bad plays, and they filled our net.”