Euro 2012: Czechs hope to defy outsider status
Quite a glorious past, for sure. The present Czech Republic? Not
With most of the big names gone, the Czechs can hardly be
counted among the favorites at the this year’s European
Championship. But the recent return to form of the national
football team, its major stars in great shape and several promising
newcomers should give the team a chance to pull off some surprises
in Poland and Ukraine.
Facing Greece, Poland and Russia in Group A in what many see as
the weakest group of the tournament, the Czechs hope to advance
from the first round for the first time since 2004 when they
reached the semifinals, and were eliminated by Greece.
Despite the changes in the squad, they still have players to
make a difference who are hungry to succeed: Chelsea goalkeeper
Petr Cech and Arsenal midfielder Tomas Rosicky.
”As far as a chance to advance, this is the best group for
us,” Cech said.
Since his international debut 10 years ago as a 19-year-old
rookie, Cech has become as dominant for the national team as he has
been for Chelsea since joining the English team in June 2004.
After his 89 international appearances, he said the time is
right for an international success.
”A success at the championship in summer would be great,” said
Cech, who helped Chelsea stop Lionel Messi and beat Barcelona in
the Champions League semifinals. ”I would be really grateful if I
could win a medal with the national team after all.”
Rosicky, the team’s captain and playmaker who won his long-term
battle with injuries and was rewarded for his impressive recent
form for Arsenal with a new contract, echoed that view.
”We may be considered the outsiders of the tournament, but why
not give it a try?” Rosicky said. ”They give us a low chance to
succeed but I’m one of those who will be fighting.”
What could also work in the Czech team’s favor is that it plays
all its three group stage matches in the Polish city of Wroclav,
only 280 kilometers (175 miles) from Prague.
”That could be an important issue,” Rosicky said. ”Our fans
can just come and go home after the match. They will certainly use
With the recently rejuvenated squad, the Czechs have improved to
maintain a record of reaching every European Championship since
Czechoslovakia split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in
Even before the split, the country finished third in 1980 and
became European champion in 1976. Twenty years later, and playing
as an independent nation, the Czech Republic stunned Italy,
Portugal and France on the road to the final.
The 1996 team known for its offensive play was carried by top
players such as Pavel Nedved, Karel Poborsky and Vladimir Smicer
and reached the second place in the FIFA rankings in 2006. But that
time is long gone.
With the three in international retirement and Rosicky injured,
the team produced a spectacular collapse in their final group stage
match at Euro 2008 against Turkey after blowing a two-goal lead and
conceding three goals in the final 15 minutes to miss out on the
quarterfinals and head home early for the second straight major
But since taking over in 2009, Czech Republic coach Michal Bilek
has been rebuilding.
”We tested more than 50 players on the way,” Bilek said. ”And
that was one of the reasons why our result at the start of this
cycle weren’t good.”