Euro 2012: Revamped Czechs eye success close to home

The Czech Republic have made it to their fifth straight Euro tournament, hungry for success after renewing the team that now relies largely on players from their home league.

Updated: May 14, 2012 15:49 IST
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Prague: The Czech Republic have made it to their fifth straight Euro tournament, hungry for success after renewing the team that now relies largely on players from their home league.

Runners-up at Euro 1996 in England and third at the 2004 edition in Portugal, the Czechs are far from being odds-on favourites at the tournament co-hosted by Poland and Ukraine and starting on June 8.

The team due to be named by coach Michal Bilek on May 14 will once again rely on Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech, Arsenal midfielder Tomas Rosicky, Bordeaux midfielder Jaroslav Plasil and Galatasaray striker Milan Baros.

These four are all that is left from the 2004 team that stunned Europe with its offensive style before being stopped by ultimate winners Greece in the semi-finals.

The rest will be brand new even compared with Euro 2008, where the Czechs, missing an injured Rosicky and retired stars Pavel Nedved, Vladimir Smicer and Karel Poborsky, bowed out after the group stage.

It was a painful revamp as Bilek, now 47, took over the team in 2009, before the Euro 2012 qualifying campaign.

The Czechs got off to a stumbling start with a 1-0 home defeat to Lithuania, then upset fans with two timid performances resulting in losses to group winners Spain.

But they regained momentum in the play-offs, beating Montenegro 2-0 at home and 1-0 away to clinch a Euro berth.

A month before the tournament, the in-form Cech and Rosicky are all but certain to shine -- and seem the only names so far assured of a spot in the squad.

Unlike in 2008, when only two players were recruited from the Czech league, Bilek's team is expected to largely rely on men plying their trade at home.

In the midfield, the 31-year-old captain Rosicky is set to appear next to players from 2011 title-winners Viktoria Plzen, who became the first Czech club in three years to make the Champions League.

At the end of the qualifying campaign, Plzen wingers Vaclav Pilar and Milan Petrzela consolidated their places in the team along with teammate Daniel Kolar and with Petr Jiracek, sold by Pilsen to Bundesliga club Wolfsburg in the winter.

Plzen defenders Frantisek Rajtoral and David Limbersky are other names to be learnt, together with Slovan Liberec defender Theo Gebre Selassie.

But coach Bilek will have a hard time choosing the defensive line, with Leverkusen's Michal Kadlec and Tomas Sivok of Besiktas being a clear choice and the rest staying open.

Up front, a few questions remain to be answered too, with the shaky form and bad temper of ex-Liverpool striker Baros and with CSKA Moscow prodigy Tomas Necid having just recovered from a broken leg.

With Bilek preferring a 4-5-1 system, they may lose their place to Nuremberg's Tomas Pekhart, who has scored nine goals in the Bundesliga so far this season.

Based in the southern Polish city of Wroclaw, not far from the Czech border, the national team will bet on fans clad in red, white and blue shirts and travelling to the city on special trains.

After drawing 1-1 with Ireland in their last friendly in February, the Czechs are facing Israel during a pre-Euro camp in Austria on May 26, before taking on Hungary in Prague on June 1 in the final test.

In Group A, the Czechs will face Russia on June 8, Greece on June 12 and hosts Poland on June 16.

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  • Football
  • Alou Diarra
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