Euro 2012 – The Runners & Riders: The Czech Republic
One could forgive the Czech Republic for being a little circumspect in their preparations for the 2012 European Championships. Having failed to qualify for the World Cup finals again two years ago – they’ve only qualified for one World Cup finals since the division of the Czechoslovakia’s national football team split into two early in 1994 – their qualification for this European Championships was modest and unspectacular. They scored only twelve goals in their eight qualifying matches, of which they lost three including a home defeat in their opening match against Lithuania. With Spain winning the group by an almost inhumane eleven points, the Czech Republic squeezed through to the finals with a comfortable win against Montenegro.
The History: The Czech Republic national team came into being with its first international match, a friendly match in Turkey played in February of 1994. Prior to this, the Czechoslovakian national team had a moderate record that was punctuated most significantly in 1976, when they won the European Championships on penalty kicks against West Germany in Belgrade. Since the formation of the Czech Republic team, the contrasts of the team’s fortunes between the European Championships and the World Cup could not be more stark. The team has only qualified for one out of four World Cup finals since first entering the tournament for the 1998 competition, but in contrast to this the Czech Republic has qualified for every European Championships finals, reaching the final in England before being beaten only by a Golden Goal in the final by Germany, and the semi-final in 2004 when they were beaten by Greece.
The Team: The days of Pavel Nedved and Karel Poborsky seem like a long time ago now for the Czech Republic. Goal-scoring has been a problem for a team that has become functional rather than particularly attractive to watch. Milan Baros is still in the squad and he has scored forty goals for his country and Tomas Rosicky showed flashes of his old self for Arsenal last season but is now thirty-one years old. Defensively, they seem more astute. Petr Cech remains one of the best goalkeepers in the world whilst Michal Kadlec of Bayer Leverkusen is a classy full-back. The Czech team’s defensive formation makes them difficult to love, and much will be expected of midfielder Petr Jiráček of Wolfsburg. He has only made six appearances for the national team so far, but great things are expected of him.
The Coach: Head coach Michal Bilek is most associated with Sparta Prague, where he had three spells as a player between 1986 and 1998 before returning as coach in 2006, whereupon he won the Gambrinus Liga in his first season. Bilek became the coach of the team in October 2009 – with a certain Vladimir Smicer as his assistant – following the team’s failure to reach the 2010 World Cup finals. There were calls for him to quit at varying stages throughout the qualifying campaign, but he reached his minimum target in getting the team through the play-offs – few believed that they would ever be able to get past Spain into the automatic qualification places – and many Czech supporters will believe that a reasonably comfortable draw gives them hal a chance of repeating the escapades of 1996 and 2004.
The Prospects: Can Tomas Rosicky stay fit and in form? Can Milan Baros – if selected – roll back the years? There are many ifs and buts surrounding this Czech side but, as with all of the other teams in their group – Poland, Russia and Greece – they will be looking at their opponents and seeing little reason why they shouldn’t get through to the quarter-finals at least. It has to be said, however, that their lack of goals is a concern, and this is accentuated by Michal Bilak’s prediliction for a cautious 4-5-1 formation. That said, however, they might be difficult to break down and a squad of new, relatively unknown players from the champions Viktoria Plzen may also play into their hands. After all, these are players that are barely heard of outside of their home country. How the more experienced players can perform at the end of a draining season might be all-important, though.
The Kit: The Czechs are with Puma, which means that it was always going to be fifty-fifty whether they would end up wearing something quite attractive or a complete abomination. This year’s effort is six of one and half a dozen of the other, though. The blue flash on the shoulder seems unnecessary but the chequered effect is nicely understated and the red colour is pleasant and far from garish. Still, red shirts, white shorts and blue songs shouldn’t be that difficult to get wrong, should they?
The National Anthem: As far as national anthems go, the Czech one is fairly non-descript, but it is at least perhaps the only anthem to be used this summer which sounds from its title – “Where Is My Home?”, which we presume to be a rhetorical question – as if it have been a Pixies song in a previous life. It also gets a bonus point for the quite magnificent line, “Pinewoods rustle among crags”, a flourish of phrase that sounds as if it might have been ripped from Beowulf. “Where Is My Home?” also survived the velvet revolution, with the first verse remaining the Czech anthem after Czechoslovakia became two countries again.
The British Press Will Say: “Czeched out”, “Czechs bounce”, and a billion and one other tediously predictable parodies based on the hilarious fact – and we’re sure that this joke will never get old – the word “Czech” sounds a little bit like the English words, “check” and “cheque”. Oh, wait. It just got old.
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