Czechs excited about future after Euro 2012

Despite exiting the European Championship with barely a whimper,

the Czech Republic will return home feeling progress has been made

as its coach attempts to drive through a rebuilding process before

the 2014 World Cup.

The Czechs failed to have a shot on target during their feeble

1-0 loss to Portugal in the quarterfinals in Warsaw on Thursday.

Reaching that stage had exceeded expectations, however.

Looking set for a short stay after being overwhelmed 4-1 by

Russia in their opening game, Michal Bilek’s young team beat Greece

2-1 and co-host Poland 1-0 to make the last eight, mirroring the

achievement of the country’s class of 2004.

”Overall, it was a success for us,” goalkeeper Petr Cech said.

”Nobody believed we were able to advance from the group. We wanted

to prove them wrong and we managed that. Given the problems in the

qualifying, (reaching) the quarterfinal is a success.”

Despite having an extra day’s preparation compared to the

Portuguese, the match was a step too far for a tired-looking Czech

team, which paid the price for sitting back and defending deeply

when Cristiano Ronaldo headed home powerfully in the 79th

minute.

Portugal’s tournament-hardened players had too much nous and

were hardly troubled by the sporadic attacks of the Czechs.

”It was a great experience for the lads who were with us at the

Euros for the first time,” Cech said. ”They can build on it in

the matches to come for the national team.

”I hope we’ll play well in 2014 World Cup qualifying and that

we will have a chance to qualify for Brazil.”

The Czechs were without injury-prone captain Tomas Rosicky for

that match and their final group game against the Poles, leaving

the midfield short of artistry and exposing a weakness in the

team.

With main striker Milan Baros also failing to score at Euro 2012

and on Friday announcing his retirement from international

football, Bilek has work to do in that department, too.

Since taking charge in 2009, the coach has tested about 50

players in an effort to replace star players of the past, including

Pavel Nedved, Karel Poborsky, Marek Jankulovski and others who were

a driving force behind the team’s march to the Euro 1996 final and

the Euro 2004 semifinals.

Attacking midfielders Vaclav Pilar and Petr Jiracek were

introduced last year as unknown players from provincial club

Viktoria Plzen, but gradually became reliable starters and scored

two goals each at Euro 2012.

Another newcomer, Theodor Gebre Selassie, was solid at right

back and will join the two midfielders in the Bundesliga after

agreeing to sign for Werder Bremen.

With Cech and Rosicky, the team’s star names, still in place,

Bilek’s new team has gradually been winning over the critics,

although Rosicky is warned he won’t be around forever.

”I don’t say I’m quitting, but at the same time, I know my

age,” the 31-year-old Arsenal playmaker said.