So far the tournament has been delivering in every way with big and smaller surprises all around but the question remains: what can we expect from the Czech Republic?
Ask any player from the Latvian national team what pressure can do with you. Two years ago, in a packed Riga arena, the team succumbed to the pressure of the expectations. After a good performance against Sweden in the opening game (‘only’ 2-7), the team lost big against Czech Republic (3-9) and drew against Norway (5-5). A cheering audience can provide wind in the sails for any home team but in Latvia’s case, it seemed to paralyze the team. After an unconvincing group stage, the team reached the playoffs. Not by merit but by the way the tournament was set up. The opponent was dangerous outsider Denmark who crushed group D and had to meet host country Latvia in a packed arena. Denmark started best and took a 2-1 lead in the first period. Faced with the possibility of premature extermination from the tournament, Latvia took charge and scored 4 consecutive goals by the end of period two. The 5-2 lead seemed comfortable enough for the hosts but floorball can be brutal at times. In the last period, Denmark was able to get to the equalizer. With no goals in extra time, penalties were needed. Just a few minutes later, the home team was eliminated. The pressure had been too much for the players. Instead of a helping hand, the 6th field player or the wind in the sails, the Latvian supporters became a chain the players could not free themselves from.
Fast forward two years. All eyes are pointed towards the Czech national team. In the past two games, the team disappointed twice. In the opening match against Germany, the team seemed unconvinced and lacked both confidence and creativity – two aspects of floorball that should not be underestimated. The pressure on the players was visible. The first period showed very little initiative, careful passes and a couple of sloppy mistakes you wouldn’t expect from high-class players and potential world champions. This did not change much, although the team managed to win the game. The next day, the team needed to defeat Latvia to secure a ticket to the quarterfinals and skip the playoffs round. It ended in drama. Like the day before, the players seemed nervous and lacked confidence in themselves and each other. Key players failed to rise up when it was needed and the team became more and more desperate. The game went from 1-3 to 3-3 but then Latvia scored the 3-4 and Czech Republic was unable to score another equalizer – with more than 15 minutes left to play.
In a couple of hours, the team will play the group stage finals. Through sheer luck – Germany defeating Latvia and the way the final group stage ranking is calculated where goals scored as a metric is more important than goal difference – the team is gifted a ticket to the playoffs with only one win. Hopefully, this will release some of the pressure on the team. Hopefully, this will result in an at least adequate performance of the Czech players and give way to an upward spiral and momentum. Because the tournament deserves a well-performing home team.
At 19.30 CET Czech Republic will play against Switzerland in the group stage finals to decide the winner of group A. Watch the game here.