Czech coach Michal Bilek proves successful
Under fire for poor performances in qualifying and booed after a
demoralizing loss to Russia, Czech Republic coach Michal Bilek is
now an unexpected success at the European Championship.
The Czechs looked set for a short stay at the tournament after
being defeated 4-1 by Russia until victories over Greece and
co-host Poland took them to the quarterfinals for the first time
Not only that, the Czechs finished top of Group A after their
1-0 victory over the Poles in Wroclaw on Saturday. They could now
face any team from a tough Group B – Germany, the Netherlands,
Portugal or Denmark – in Thursday’s quarterfinals in Warsaw. The
goal is to reach at least the semifinals.
”Now, a medal is at stake. And we want it,” Bilek said. ”I’d
like to avoid the Germans – they are in great shape here and are
among the tournament’s favorites.”
He said he was happy for his players and he didn’t take the
surprising results as personal satisfaction.
”I don’t need people to cheer me,” Bilek said. ”It’s nothing
new that our fans react negatively to me, but I don’t have it on my
The 47-year-old former Czechoslovakia midfielder has faced a
huge challenge since taking charge in 2009 to rebuild the team
following the retirement of its star players. Besides goalkeeper
Petr Cech, every other position has undergone a major change.
Defenders Zdenek Grygera, Marek Jankulovski, David Rozehnal and
Tomas Ujfalusi have all departed. Captain Tomas Rosicky is the last
member of an attack-minded midfield made up of Pavel Nedved, Karel
Poborsky and Vladimir Smicer – a driving force behind the team’s
march to the Euro 1996 final and the 2004 semifinals.
Up front, Bilek can’t rely on Jan Koller, the towering striker
who is the best Czech Republic scorer of all time with 55
Bilek’s start was disastrous. In the first Euro 2012 qualifying
game against Lithuania in 2010, the Czechs lost 1-0 at home and
were in trouble. They continued to struggle in the campaign and
Bilek’s preferable lineup with Milan Baros as a lone striker failed
But Bilek has been working patiently on the changes and added
new talented players that have helped the team qualify for the
tournament co-hosted by Poland and Ukraine.
Attacking midfielders Vaclav Pilar and Petr Jiracek came last
year as unknown players from the provincial club Viktoria Plzen,
but gradually became reliable starters and scored two goals each at
Euro 2012. Another newcomer Theodor Gebre Selassie is solid in
defense. With some major stars, including Cech and Rosicky still in
place, Bilek’s new team is starting to win over the critics.
And the players stand behind the coach.
”Many have been criticizing Michal Bilek,” Baros said. ”But
he has shown he’s an excellent coach.”