Cech cashing in

On the international front, Cech was outstanding as the Czechs won the 2002 UEFA Under-21 Championship and he has been first choice for the senior side since, writes ANDY HAMPSON.

Petr Cech is a brilliant shot-stopping keeper regarded as one of the best in his position in the world, having excelled with English champions Chelsea and the Czech Republic national side.

Cech was born in Plzen, then Czechoslovakia, and took his early footballing steps with hometown team Viktoria Plzen. He played as a midfielder as a young child but switched to goalkeeping after breaking a leg at the age of 10.

He moved to Chmel Blsany as a teenager and made his senior debut at 17. He made just 27 appearances for the club but did enough in that short time to earn a move to Sparta Prague in 2001.

He was in the first team after just four matches of the 2001-02 season and made an immediate impression, setting a Czech top-flight record by going 855 minutes without conceding a goal. He also tasted Champions League action with Sparta that season — and kept a clean sheet against Bayern Munich — but he was to spend just one year there as French side Rennes lured him away for around GBP3.5 million.

Cech was a virtual ever-present in two seasons at Rennes, helping them preserve their Ligue 1 status with some comfort and reach the French Cup semi-finals in 2003 and then finish ninth the following year.

It was only a matter of time before one of Europe's big clubs came in and a GBP7 million switch to Chelsea was agreed before the end of the 2003-04 season.

When he arrived at Stamford Bridge he immediately displaced the excellent Carlo Cudicini as first choice and justified his position by going a Premier League record 1,025 minutes without conceding a goal.

He let in just 13 league goals all season as Chelsea won their first title in 50 years and his 21 clean sheets eclipsed a record set just a year earlier, by Cudicini.

On the international front, Cech was outstanding as the Czechs won the 2002 UEFA Under-21 Championship and he has been first choice for the senior side since.

He helped the side reach the semi-finals of Euro 2004 and he was again between the posts at this summer's World Cup.

The Czech Republic had a disappointing World Cup this summer as they were eliminated in the group stages. Cech was further inconvenienced by having to undergo routine shoulder surgery after the tournament. He had to miss Chelsea's first three games of the season as a result but is now back to fitness.

Cech is married to his school sweetheart Martina, who moved with him to France and now London. They live together with their dog. Cech says he also likes to play tennis and golf in his spare time.

Cech has driven a GBP39,000 Lexus RX since moving to Chelsea. The Lexus is a refined and luxurious 4x4 with comfortable room for five people.

It may be rather modest in comparison to the vehicles driven by his contemporaries but it is highly practical and a solid choice.

FACTFILE Name: Petr Cech Position: Goalkeeper Club: Chelsea DOB: 20/05/1982 Czech Republic Caps: 44 Czech Republic Goals: 0

Czech Republic Debut: v Hungary, February 2002

Moment to remember

The list of Cech's career highlights is growing as Chelsea go from strength to strength but his performances in the 2002 UEFA Under-21 Championship were outstanding and still rank among his best.

Cech kept six clean sheets out of seven in qualifying and continued to impress at the finals.

He saved the best until last with an outstanding performance in the final against favourites France, shutting out the likes of Steed Malbranque and Sidney Govou as the game ended goalless and went to penalties. He then saved two penalties as the Czechs won it 3-1 on spot-kicks.

"They had a great goalkeeper, great not only in size but in the way he played and that made the difference," said France's coach Raymond Domenech, who has since gone on to take charge of his country's senior side.

Moment to forget

Cech has made few mistakes in his Chelsea career but he will not remember his side's 2005 Champions League semi-final with Liverpool with great fondness.

Cech was arguably at fault for Liverpool's decisive goal in the second leg at Anfield after losing the ball to international team-mate Milan Baros and bringing him down.

The ball ran on for Luis Garcia to score and although there was debate whether the ball crossed the line, a penalty could have been awarded had advantage not been played.

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