European Championship in focus: Spotlighting the Czech Republic

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Most Americans remember the Czech Republic for the rude welcome gave the U.S. at World Cup 2006. Jan Koller scored five minutes into the opening match, with Tomas Rosicky adding two in the Czechs’ 3-0 rout.

For Americans still holding grudges, you’ll be happy to know times have changed. (Seemingly, they started changing right after Rosicky’s second goal). The Czechs memorably failed to get out of their group at Euro 2008 while not even qualifying for World Cup 2010.

Are the Czechs looking at more disappointment? Their blue, white and red Magic 8 Ball reads “OUTLOOK NOT SO GOOD”.

Man that matters:

Petr Cech: Cech, who started that game in Gelsenkirchen, carries much of the responsibility for 2008’s failure. At the time, he was considered one of the world’s best goalkeepers, a reputation that took a permanent hit  in the third match of group play. Then, Cech dropped a floating cross from Turkey winger Hamit Altintop, delivering a game-tying goal on a platter to Nihat Khaveci. The score, three minutes from time, made it 2-2 and moved the Czech Republic from second to third in Group A (Turkey would add a third goal in the 89th minute).

During Chelsea’s run to the Champions League title, Cech had no trouble with crosses. He didn’t have trouble with anything. He was dominant against both Barcelona and Bayern Munich, aggressively coming off his line to claim anything that speculatively floated into his area.

If the Czech Republic’s going to get out of Group A, Cech will probably have to be as good as he was in Champions League.

First-round games:

June 8: vs. Russia (Warsaw, Poland)
June 12: vs. Greece (Warsaw, Poland)
June 16: vs. Poland (Warsaw, Poland)

Foursome of knowledge:

  • Four times in the last 12 years, the Czech Republic has been ranked second in the world by FIFA (and, showing those spurious rankings were no fluke, they were ranked first per Elo ratings in June 2004 and June 2005). For the five months that preceded the 2006 World Cup, the Czech Republic was sat in the number two perch, making it even more disappointing when Ghana advanced with Italy out of their group.
  • For head coach Michal Bilek (who signed a contract extension on Sunday), Euro 2012 will be his first major tournament. The former Sparta Prague and Viktoria Plzen boss replaced Ivan Hasek after the Czech Republic failed to qualify for the 2010 World Cup. In qualifying for Euro, Bilek guided his side to a second place group finish (forgive him, he couldn’t beat Spain for first). They eventually cruised past Montenegro in a playoff to book their finals’ place.
  • Tomas Rosicky being the squad’s best player is far from ideal. It means the nation hasn’t produced another true star since Pavel Nedved retired from international play in 2006. During that time, Rosicky’s had trouble staying healthy at Arsenal, and most of the time he was fit, he wasn’t playing that well. That changed this year, with the 31-year-old putting in his best season since 2007-08. While well past a peak that saw him post a World Cup double, Rosicky still has the ability to be the difference in a very tight group.
  • But who will be the beneficiary of Rosicky’s work? Milan Baros has 41 goals in 88 appearances for the Czechs, but he’s only scored three times since 2009. There may be a chance for big Tomas Necid to contribute. The 6’3″ CSKA target man was wildly successful at U-levels. If nothing else, the 22-year-old can serve as a focal point.

Where they are going:

They could finish first, they could finish last, but if you had to place a bet on where the Czech Republic will finish, put your money on the latter. Through they have relatively recent wins over Poland and Ukraine, the Czech Republic have not beaten a team that qualified (on the field) for Euro 2012 since 2007.

Squad:

Goalkeepers: Petr Cech (Chelsea), Jan Lastuvka (Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk), Jaroslav Drobny (Hamburg), Tomas Grigar (Teplice)

Defenders: Theodor Gebre Selassie (Slovan Liberec), Michal Kadlec (Bayer Leverkusen), Marek Suchy (Spartak Moscow), Roman Hubnik (Hertha Berlin), Tomas Sivok (Besiktas), Daniel Pudil (Cesena), Frantisek Rajtoral (Viktoria Plzen), David Limbersky (Viktoria Plzen)

Midfielders: Milan Petrzela (Viktoria Plzen), Jan Rezek (Anorthosis Famagusta), Tomas Rosicky (Arsenal), Jaroslav Plasil (Bordeaux), Vaclav Pilar (Viktoria Plzen), Tomas Hubschman (Shakhtar Donetsk), Daniel Kolar (Viktoria Plzen), Petr Jiracek (Wolfsburg), Vladimir Darida (Viktoria Plzen)

Forwards: Tomas Necid (CSKA Moscow), Milan Baros (Galatasaray), Tomas Pekhart (Nurnberg), David Lafata (Baumit Jablonec)

ProSoccerTalk is doing its best to keep you up to date on what’s going on in Poland and Ukraine. Check out the site’s Euro 2012 page and look at the site’s previews, predictions, and coverage of all the events defining UEFA’s championship.