Czech Republic are a team that have flirted with success since their separation from Slovakia in 1994. With great players such as Pavel Nedved, Jan Koller, Tomas Rosicky and Petr Cech over the years to choose from, you would think that they would stand a good chance when it came to tournaments such as the World Cup and European Championships.
In the first decade of their existence, they enjoyed decent success. In their first major tournament following the split from Czechoslovakia, they managed to go all the way to the final where they would face Germany in Euro 96 held in England. The game, which was held at the old Wembley, would end 2-1 to Germany, and it wasn’t until 2004 where they would enjoy success once more. This time around they would get to the semi-finals of the European Championship held in Portugal, where they would lose 1-0 to eventual winners of the competition Greece. Since then however, their success has faltered as they failed to get out of the group stage at both the 2006 World Cup, and Euro 2008.
It was to get even worse for the Czech Republic, as manager at the time Petr Rada made a disastrous start to qualification for the 2010 World Cup. Suffering 0-0 draws to both Northern Ireland and Slovenia, they faced their separated neighbours Slovakia in a game that would be hugely decisive. A 2-1 loss was enough for Czech Republic to call for a change, but the damage had already been done, as new manager Ivan Hasek could not save the team from the embarrassment of failing to qualify. Hasek resigned immediately after his failure, leaving the Czech Republic looking for a new manager for the third time in the space of a year.
The qualification for Euro 2012 was overseen by Michal Belik, who began where many other managers before him had – with disappointment. A 1-0 loss at home to Lithuania was a huge shock to a nation that expected to qualify from an reasonable looking group. Their form turned around soon after, as impressive wins at home to Scotland and a double over Lichtenstein saw them climb above the rest of the pack and into second place, behind eventual group winners Spain. Their most important result came in Scotland, where a 90th minute penalty saw them grab a draw, and effectively guarantee their place behind Spain in the group table. They faced Montenegro in the play-off to see who would gain qualification, and the Czech Republic ran out comfortable winners both home and away, finishing with an aggregate score of 3-0 over the two legs.
Czech Republic will be hoping to qualify for the latter stages of the tournament this time around, as they have been handed the tournament’s most appealing group. A tricky tie against Russia in their opening match is followed by a game against Greece – the team that defeated them in the semi-finals eight years ago. They finish up against co-hosts Poland, which may well decide their fate.
A mixture of 4-3-3 and 4-4-2 formations have been used throughout qualifying by Belik as he has looked to assess the strengths and weaknesses of his current crop of players. Tomas Rosicky’s end of season form at Arsenal will have been pleasing to see for Belik, but if Czech Republic are to be successful in this championship, then they will need to play as a team. In previous tournaments they have focused too much on giving the ball to their star players and hoping that they can win games for them by themselves, but without too many world class players this time around, it is the team ethic that will be needed if they are to succeed.
One to Watch – Milan Baros: Having scored 41 goals in 88 appearances for his country so far, 30-year-old striker Milan Baros, who currently plays at Galatasaray, will once again be given the task of keeping his team’s hopes of progression alive by scoring crucial goals, as he has done at previous tournaments.
Selassie – Hubnik – Sivok – Kadlec
Janacek – Hubschman – Rosicky
Rezek – Baros – Plasil