Shefki ready for Cech challenge

SHEFKI Kuqi is ready to face the very best in order to come back in top nick for Ipswich Town's crucial Championship promotion chase, writes Derek Davis.

SHEFKI Kuqi is ready to face the very best in order to come back in top nick for Ipswich Town's crucial Championship promotion chase, writes Derek Davis.

Kuqi has been called into Finland's World Cup squad to play the Czech Republic on Saturday, which will pit the Blues' leading scorer against Petr Cech, the meanest keeper in Europe at the moment.

Chelsea stopper Cech has conceded just 19 goals for club and country this season in 44 games, which have also yielded an incredible 30 clean sheets.

Kuqi has hit 16 goals in 38 Town games so far this season and another two for Finland in three internationals.


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The Kosovan-born striker admits his injury lay-off has set him back a little but is looking for the game in Teplice to help sharpen him up for Town's league game with Derby the following week.

Speaking en route to the Finland training camp, Kuqi told the EADT: “Petr Cech is probably the best keeper around at the moment so it will be a good test for me. In fact, the Czech Republic are one of the best teams in Europe, so we need to go there as a team and look for a win.”

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Since making his international debut in 1997, Kuqi has won 37 full caps so far and is relishing getting his 38th, which will also help Ipswich.

He said: “This game has come at a perfect time for me. I had plenty of rest when I was injured so I'm not tired. If anything, it will be good for me to be playing this weekend to help my sharpness. I was in very good form before the injury and my fitness is good but, since I was out, I have not been at my best.

“The Wigan game was tough coming back and I did okay against Forest, as we did as a team, but not so well in the last couple of games.

“At Gillingham, the pitch was bad, not just for me, and it was a very difficult game against a team that has hit form.”

Kuqi believes Town can still complete the season with an unbeaten run, but appreciates every team that have yet to meet are still playing for something.

He said: “It is a crazy league. The bottom six or seven clubs are all fighting for their lives, as we have seen, and they also seem to have hit form at the same time.

“Other teams we have to play, like Wolves away, are still in with an outside chance of making the play-offs so there will be no let-up.

“But, we said at the beginning of the last 10 games, we wanted to finish unbeaten and we are still going for that.”

Kuqi backs himself to hit form again and see his partnership with Darren Bent flourish once more.

He added: “I feel Darren has still been doing very well recently. At Gillingham, he kept going on a difficult pitch which deprived him of a yard in pace because the ground was so soft you slipped whenever you tried to get away.

“There is no doubt that this season we are getting a lot of attention from defenders, because we have got better and better as a pair, but that has helped us in a way.

“If I'm being marked closely, that means there will be more space for Darren and vice versa. That takes pressure off each other and now I see Darren as a great target man as well.”

With 31 goals between them, the Bent/Kuqi partnership has blossomed, but, when one or the other is out of kilter, then it has affected the team.

Kuqi said: “It has been difficult for Scowy (James Scowcroft) for example. You can't expect him to come straight in and find that understanding with Darren, they need time to get used to each other.”

Not that Kuqi intends to allow Scowcroft to take his place, and after using this international against Cech and the Czechs, the Blues fans will be relishing seeing a back-to-form Kuqi against Derby.

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