Proud crowd says thanks as Czechs bow out of Euro
Thousands watching the Euro quarter-finals in Prague's central square Thursday were upbeat, then anxious, and finally proud despite the Czech Republic's 1-0 loss to Portugal that sent their team home.
"Thanks, guys," chanted the crowd in front of the giant TV screen at the final whistle.
"I'm proud of what they've achieved," said Zuzana Bicikova, a Prague student, with a flag on her face, leaving the historic Old Town Square after the game.
The typical venue for similar games lured a big crowd wearing Czech team shirts, waving flags distributed by young girls, sipping the famous Czech-made beer on the hot summer night.
"We're going to win 2-1," Lukas Ralek, a young man living near Prague, told AFP while sitting on the cobbled square, munching a hamburger and drinking beer with friends before the match started.
"One-nil will do," countered Vaclav Jonak, wearing the Czech national team shirt, who brought his wife and two small children to "get a taste of the atmosphere."
A pub near the square was packed with fans, some wearing the red shirts, others with Czech flags painted on their faces.
"It's been pretty good so far, I'm surprised to see how we put them under pressure," said Jan Vasicek, a young man with a flag on his face, as the Czechs were fuelling hopes of holding Portugal to a goalless draw at halftime.
Fans and experts alike were afraid of the offensive skills of Cristiano Ronaldo before the game.
"They've now left Ronaldo unmarked, but otherwise the marking is good, they are watching him and we could see how pissed off he's been a few times," said Vasicek.
But this did not last long -- ten minutes from time, Ronaldo blasted a powerful header that hit the ground before flying into the net past helpless Czech keeper Petr Cech.
"Ronaldo," someone whispered into the silence.
"Who else?" said another voice from another corner of the pub.
As the end drew closer, the frantic crowd in the old square did its utmost to push the Czechs towards an equaliser.
"Let's go, guys, we're gonna score! We want a goal! Let's go, Czechs!" as the team started a last-gasp attack.
And then the whistle blew. No tears -- instead, the crowd started chanting "Thank you guys!"
"The performance was a surprise, I didn't expect anything at all today. They deserve huge compliments because they gave it all they could," said Zuzana Bicikova.
"They simply couldn't resist the pressure throughout the 90 minutes, against players like Ronaldo," said Bicikova.
Another young woman, Michaela Cervenkova from Prague, said she liked the first-half performance.
"Then they seemed to have lost their minds. I don't know what happened," she said.
"Ronaldo? I hate him," she added.
In a pub in Prague's broader centre before the game, waiter Jiri Chrudimsky offered what seemed a universal Czech answer.
"The quarter-finals are already a success for the Czechs," he said.
"You see, it's only football. Not a war."
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