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

since 2004.

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

mind.”

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

goals.

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

to impress.

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.”