Czechs' black defender stars after alleged racism

Czechs' black defender stars after alleged racism

Published Jun. 13, 2012 4:26 p.m. ET

Undeterred by alleged racist abuse from Russia fans in his first match, defender Theodor Gebre Selassie is emerging as a key weapon for the Czech Republic at the European Championship.

Though a right back with defensive duties, the team's only black player provided a real attacking threat against Greece in a Group A game on Tuesday the Czechs couldn't afford to lose - having already been beaten by the Russians.

Solid in defense, where he marked Greek striker Georgios Samaras out of the game, Gebre Selassie used his pace and precise crossing skills to help the Czechs up front. It was his cross in the sixth minute that allowed Vaclav Pilar to score what proved be the Czechs' vital second goal in a 2-1 victory.

Despite his attacking talent, the defender rejected any suggestion that he should start playing up front.


''I don't want to be a forward,'' he said on Wednesday. ''The best thing is to attack from the back position, that's what can take opponents by surprise.''

With Czech coach Michal Bilek preferring a one-striker lineup, Gebre Selassie's surging runs have certainly made his presence felt in his 12 internationals since making his debut last year.

Off the pitch, UEFA has launched an investigation into the alleged racial abuse directed at the defender, along with that faced by Italy forward Mario Balotelli. European football's ruling body has pledged zero tolerance of discrimination during the three-week tournament in Poland and Ukraine.

''Of course, it's a problem,'' Gebre Selassie said. ''To abuse people because of the color of their skin is absolute nonsense nowadays. It's good that (UEFA) deals with that.''

Gebre Selassie told The Associated Press that he was abused, but still declined to file a complaint.

''I always try to play my best and I don't care about any chants,'' said the 25-year-old Czech-born player, whose father is Ethiopian.

Gebre Selassie is one of several newcomers who joined a national team that had been struggling in Euro 2012 qualifying last year.

Bilek is rebuilding his side after a number of star players retired and has had particular problems with a defense that was torn apart in Friday's 4-1 loss to Russia. Gebre Selassie has replaced established Serie A players in the Czech defense of recent seasons - Zdenek Grygera, Marek Jankulovski and Tomas Ujfalusi.

His international performances are widely expected to earn him a move away from Czech champion Liberec for a foreign club. But for now, the 25-year-old defender is just looking forward to Saturday's decisive group stage game against Poland - where a victory would secure his team a place in the quarterfinals.

Gebre Selassie is well aware of the stakes.

''It will be the biggest match of my career,'' he said.