World Cup hat trick for Soukalová
Czech biathlete signs off winter season in style
Posted: March 20, 2013
The Czech Republic's Gabriela Soukalová celebrates her first place in the women's 12.5 km mass start event of the Biathlon Word Cup in the Siberian city of Khanty-Mansiysk March 17.
Gabriela Soukalová certainly knows how to make an impression. After helping her country to the mixed relay bronze medal at the recent World Championships in Nové Město, she delighted the Czech fans with an impromptu rendition of the song "Don't Speak," by No Doubt. Now, the young biathlete has proved her credentials on the snow by claiming three wins from three at the World Cup season finale in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia.
Prior to that, Soukalová only had one World Cup victory to her name, which came during the meeting in Slovenia last December. However, the 23-year-old doubled that tally March 14 as she took the honors in the 7.5-kilometer sprint, shooting cleanly to finish ahead of Germany pair Andrea Henkel and Miriam Gossner.
Soukalová then notched up her second win of the weekend when she dominated the pursuit race two days later. The Czech recovered from having to run two penalty loops as she maintained her lead from the sprint event to overcome the challenge of home favorite Olga Vilukhina, crossing the line 7 seconds clear of the Russian.
But if Soukalová thought things couldn't get any better, she was very much mistaken. Saving her best for last, the girl from Jablonec nad Nisou completed a stunning hat trick of victories in the mass start race March 17. After a slow start, she worked her way up the field thanks to another perfect display with the rifle, which saw her overtake the early leaders and round off the best performance of her fledgling career to date.
"This is an impressive moment for me," an overjoyed Soukalová reflected afterward. "I said yesterday my win [in the pursuit] was the biggest shock of my life, but now I can say that again. This is the biggest shock of my life. It's a huge surprise for me. I really don't know what else to say."
Football: Czechs gear up for 'decisive' qualifiers
With two vital 2014 World Cup qualifiers on the horizon, the Czech national side assembled in Prague March 18 to begin preparations for the first of those matches against Denmark in Olomouc March 22, before they head to Yerevan to face Armenia four days later.
A host of players have been recalled to the squad after being rested for the friendly with Turkey last month, including Viktoria Plzeň defender František Rajtoral, Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder Tomáš Hübschman and Nuremberg striker Tomáš Pekhart. Captain Tomáš Rosicky, who hasn't played in a competitive game since injuring his Achilles tendon at Euro 2012, should also feature, with coach Michal Bílek declaring the Arsenal man "fully fit."
The two qualifiers could have extra significance for returning goalkeeper Petr Čech, who will earn his 100th international cap if he makes appearances in both matches. Speaking to The Prague Post in February, Čech said, "We have some decisive games coming up, so we need to make sure we take some points from the next two games to have a chance to qualify."
The Czechs currently lie third in Group B with a win and two draws, five points behind leaders Italy and one behind second-place Bulgaria, although Bílek's men have a game in hand on both. More worryingly for the coach, though, is the fact his team have failed to score in two of their three qualifying matches.
In a bid to rectify that, forwards Matěj Vydra and Libor Kozák have been included to add more firepower to the lineup. Vydra has netted 20 times for English second division side Watford during his loan spell there this season, while Lazio man Kozák bagged a hat trick against Stuttgart in the Europa League March 14, making him the competition's leading marksman.
Football: Plzeň go down fighting in Turkey
Viktoria Plzeň came agonizingly close to completing a remarkable turnaround against Fenerbahçe in the Europa League March 14 but ultimately fell short as the Turkish side did just enough to seal their passage through to the competition's quarterfinals.
Trailing 1-0 from the first leg of the last-16 tie, Pavel Vrba's men arrived in Istanbul knowing nothing less than a win would keep their hopes alive. Marek Bakoš and Vladimír Darida both threatened for the visitors early on, before an uncharacteristic error from Captain Pavel Horváth allowed Fenerbahçe to double their aggregate advantage on the stroke of halftime.
Horváth was caught dallying on the ball inside his own penalty area by substitute Salih Uçan, who fired past the despairing dive of Matúš Kozáčik to claim his first goal for the club. That strike was met by an eerie silence inside the Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium, with the game played behind closed doors after home fans had thrown fireworks onto the pitch in a previous match.
Spurred on by going behind, Plzeň regained the initiative after the break and leveled on the night when Darida crashed in a low shot from outside the box. But despite throwing the kitchen sink at the hosts in the latter stages, with David Limberský hitting an upright and Michal Ďuriš heading over when it looked easier to score, the Czech side were denied what would have been a winning away goal, and Fenerbahçe held on for a 2-1 aggregate victory.
"We didn't lose the tie in this game," the goalscorer Darida told UEFA.com after the match. "We gave it away at home last week. Today, we played much better, but unfortunately that didn't prove to be enough. We have learnt a lot, both individually and as a team. We'll capitalize on that in the future, for sure."
Jonathan Crane can be reached at