Cech in fight to face Montenegro

The Czech Republic is hoping Petr Cech will recover in time for Friday’s first leg of the European Championship playoff against Montenegro and help the team qualify for next year’s tournament in Poland and Ukraine.

The 29-year-old Chelsea goalkeeper, one of the mainstays of the Czech team, had his nose broken in Saturday’s 1-0 win over Blackburn in the Premier League and was only able to join the Czech team on Wednesday.

Cech, who already wears a head guard, wore a nose-protection mask made for him in Milan during a light training session.

”When I put it on for the first time, I had a feeling I look like Batman,” said Cech, who still wears protective head gear after fracturing his skull in a 2006 club game at Reading.

Cech made it through training Wednesday but is unsure if he will play at Sparta Prague stadium in what would be his 87th international.

”I’m not able to say that,” Cech said. ”It’s still painful. If I’m sure I wouldn’t be limited by pain or that I’m not used to the mask, then I will play. But if I think I’m ready for 90 or less percent, I won’t.

”These are the two most important matches in the qualifying and all players have to be 100 percent fit.”

The Czechs hope to maintain a record of reaching every European Championship since Czechoslovakia split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993, and they are favored to beat Montenegro.

But the team has been struggling since Euro 2008 in Austria and Switzerland, failing to qualify for last year’s World Cup in South Africa, and Montenegro has proved it has the talent to create a shock.

The Montenegrins held England to a 0-0 draw at Wembley Stadium and finished above Switzerland, Wales and Bulgaria in Euro 2012 qualifying.

Czech coach Michal Bilek is without defensive midfielder Tomas Hubschman, who is suspended after his red card in the group game against Spain. Center back Tomas Hubnik is also banned for the first leg.

Bilek asked retired international defenders Tomas Ujfalusi and Jiri Jarosik to return to help the team but both players rejected the approach.

The good news for Bilek is key striker Milan Baros has recovered from a muscle injury.

The second leg is scheduled for Tuesday in Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro.