Team: Czech Republic
Rankings: FIFA (26), ELO (22), SPI (19)
Euro History: Champions (1976*), Finals (1996), Semfinals (1960*, 1980*, 2004), Qualified (2000, 2008)
Last Five Tournaments: DNQ – GS – GS – SF – DNQ
History: Czechoslovakia had a fairly rich soccer tradition. The country won the 1976 European Championship, reached two more semifinals and made the final of 1962 World Cup. The Czech Republic have qualified for just one World Cup since independence, but have appeared in every European Championship and acquitted themselves well, progressing to the final in 1996 and the semifinals in 2004.
Qualification: The Czechs finished second to Spain in Group I, winning four of six matches against teams that were not Spain. They beat Montenegro 3-0 on aggregate in the second-place playoff to advance to the tournament.
Coach: The Czech Republic’s coach is 47-year-old Michal Bilek. He’s a longtime Sparta Prague player, who spent some time with Real Betis in Spain. He was a member of the 1990 Czechoslovakia team that reached the quarterfinals at the 1990 World Cup. He took over the Czech Republic after they failed to qualify for the 2010 World Cup. He won the Gambrinus Liga as Spata Prague coach in 2007.
Squad: Pavel Nedved is not walking out of that tunnel. There will be a whole lot of mediocre in his stead. The Czech’s best player is Petr Cech. Chelsea’s star goalkeeper has had some of the best form of his career, while leading the Blues to the Champions League Final. Striker Milan Baros won the Euro 2004 Golden Boot and played for Liverpool’s 2005 Champions League-winning side, though has not done much since. Tomas Rosicky had his first stable run in Arsenal’s midfield after years being hampered by injuries. The Czechs also have a solid left back and free-kick specialist in Bayer Leverkusen’s Michal Kadlec.
One name to look for is Tomas Necid. The 22-year-old striker has been a highly touted prospect since his youth career and showed flashes of top form with CSKA Moscow. However, he just came back from a bad knee injury and has not scored since May 2011.
Tactics: Bilek played 4-4-2 at his two previous club stops and initially with the Czech team, but has converted to a 4-2-3-1 since losing 3-0 to Norway in August. They have lost just once in seven matches since and that was against Spain. Look for the Czechs to set up a firm base and hope Rosicky can pull the strings behind one of their strikers who finds his form.
Fun Fact: The Czechs are the highest per capita beer consumers in the world. The country averages 156.9 liters per year per person.
Prognosis: The Czechs do not form an especially strong team, though this is not an especially strong group. Should the Czechs continue the form that got them to the tournament, they could escape the group. That would earn them a probable date with Holland or Germany.
[Photo via Presswire]
Group A: Poland, Czech Republic, Greece, Russia
Group B: Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, Portugal
Group C: Croatia, Ireland, Italy, Spain
Group D: England, France, Sweden, Ukraine