Coach Michal Bilek
One to Watch Vaclav Pilar
With less than a week until kick-off, all of our minds, well most of them at least, will turn away from the domestic football competitions within our own countries, towards the International arena for the eagerly awaited European Championship Finals, to be held in Poland and the Ukraine. At It’s All In The Game, I shall be profiling each of the 16 finalists who will bid to become the champions of Europe until 2016.
We visit the Czech Republic for our next Euro 2012 team profile. The Czech Republic has only been an independent footballing nation since the early 1990s. They played their first match against Turkey in 1994, an encounter which they won comfortably, 1-4. Prior to becoming a sovereign nation, the Czech Republic made up part of the Czechoslovakian team which competed internationally for over fifty years.
The Czechoslovak team of yesteryear were a recognised force in international competitions, finishing runners up in the World Cup Finals of 1934 and 1962, and winning the European Championships in 1976. Euro 76 was held in Yugoslavia, as it was then, it was the last time that the finals competition only included four teams and the last time that the host nation had to qualify.
Czechoslovakia faced Holland in the semi-finals and the stunned the Dutch by producing a fantastic display, running out 3-1 winners after extra time. Although the Dutch recorded one goal, they failed to score themselves as Anton Ondrus both put the Czechs ahead and scored an own goal to equalise for the Dutch taking the tie into extra time. Two goals in the final six minutes of the thirty secured the Czech’s place in the final.
West Germany, having defeated the hosts 4-2 (aet) in the other semi-final, would await the Czechoslovakians in the final. Fresh from their 1974 World Cup triumph on home soil, the Germans, who had the likes of Gerd Mueller and Franz Beckenbauer to call upon, where the clear favourites. The hard-fought encounter ended in stalemate after 120 minutes and so, for the first time ever, the final of the European Championships would come down to penalties. Czechoslovakia won the shoot-out 5-3 and were crowned champions. The game would forever be remembered for the Panenka penalty, named after Antonin Panenka who coolly chipped his penalty straight down the middle in the shoot-out.
Since separation, the Czech Republic have done fairly well on the international stage for such a relatively small country. They succeeded at their first attempt, qualifying for the European Championships in 1996, which were held in England. When the action got underway, however, the Czechs lost their opening group game to Germany 2-0.
Undeterred by this setback the Czech Republic were able to put together a magnificent run of performances and results to become the surprise package of the tournament, reaching the final. Unfortunately for the Czechs, they would again face the Germans and, despite taking a 1-0 lead, they were pegged back, eventually losing to an extra time Golden Goal, scored by Oliver Bierhoff. The performances of the Czech team gained them a lot of admirers, and several of their star players, such as Karel Poborsky, Patrick Berger, and of course, Pavel Nedved, earned lucrative contracts at big European clubs on the back of their showing in the tournament.
After doing so well at Euro 96, Czech Republic were heavily fancied to go on and do well at World Cup 98 in France. However, qualification did not go according to plan as the Czechs finished the campaign in third place behind Spain and Yugoslavia, therefore not making it to the tournament proper.
Slightly unfortunate elimination in the group stage of Euro 2000 was followed up by yet another failure to make the World Cup Finals in 2002. Finishing second in their group, behind Denmark, the Czech Republic would face Belgium in a two legged play-off; they lost both legs 1-0.
Undefeated in qualification for Euro 2004, a very strong Czech Republic side arrived in Portugal in great form. With the likes of Milan Baros, Jan Koller, and, the evergreen Pavel Nedved, the Czechs took the tournament by storm, winning all their group games, including coming from 2-0 down to beat the Netherland’s 3-2 in one of the tournaments greatest ever games. In the quarter final two goals from Milan Baros helped the Czech Republic to a comfortable 3-0 win over Denmark. Their fabulous run saw them make it to the semi-final, where they were cruelly beaten by an extra time Silver Goal from, tournament winners, Greece. Milan Baros did, however, take home the Golden Boot.
Czech Republic qualified for their first World Cup as an independent nation in 2006. Full of high hopes after their success at Euro 2004, the Czechs arrived in the group stages. However, unfortunately for them and their fans, they also departed in the group stages, and said good-bye to, the retiring, Nedved and Poborsky. Group stage elimination at the hands of Turkey was to follow at Euro 2008, and failure to make the World Cup Finals in South Africa 2010 was the first time the Czechs had failed to make the grade since 2002.
Czech Republic finished second in their qualifying group, amassing 13 points and losing three matches along the way, two of those defeats were against the reigning World and European champions, Spain, so we can’t really hold that against them. They won their play-off against Montenegro 3-0 on aggregate and thus qualified for next summer’s finals in Poland and Ukraine.
The Czechs under manager Michal Bilek are a solid, well-disciplined outfit, who are hard to beat, if somewhat lacking in flair. They have many experienced players such as Petr Cech in goal, Tomas Rosicky (c) in midfield, and Milan Baros up front, as well as a couple of exciting youngsters breaking into the team. Kadlec, Sivok and Hubnik provide solidity and reliability at the back. Rosicky, Jiracek and Plasil add a little creativity in midfield.
A Czech youngster to look out for at the tournament is Vaclav Pilar, he is a 23 year old attacking midfielder. Though he’s attracted tremendous interest from Wolfsburg in Germany and is likely to sign a contract with a Bundesliga club after the tournament, he is currently at Czech champions Viktoria Plzen. Rated very highly in his homeland, and known for his speed and ability to create something out of nothing, Pilar scored a tremendous goal to put the Czechs in command of their play-off first leg.
The Czech Republic have done well to make it to Euro 2012. They are a solid side, if lacking somewhat in flair. At the back experience will be key and, in Petr Cech, they have a goalkeeper who has re-found his best form, he was crucial in Chelsea’s road to Champions’ League glory and he will be vital to any hopes that his nation may hold for Euro 2012 success. The Czech midfield is capable of brilliance on its day, however, when things don’t click they can become one-paced and predictable. For goals they will rely on Baros, although his form for the national team has dropped off in recent times and on Tomas Necid, the powerful, young CSKA striker who has just returned to the squad after recovering from injury.
Czech Republic are in group a with Poland, Greece and Russia. Whilst Russia are the clear favourites to win the group, second place is there for whoever wants to seize it. The Czechs are a decent outfit, capable of reaching the knock-out stage but they will have to be at their best to see off a Polish team playing in front of a packed home stadium and a stubborn Greece team who don’t concede many goals.
Cech image by lembagg. Rosicky image by Ronnie Macdonald.