EURO 2012 GROUP A:Czech Republic:Bilek’s fight for recognition,Rosicky’s injury curse & Cech’s second chance.

We continue our countdown to the 14th edition of the European Championship to be hosted by Poland and Ukraine between June 8 and July 1, 2012.  Europe’s best 16 teams will compete for the ultimate crown this summer. Just like last four years,the Czech are once again in Group A.The Czech Republic kick off their EURO 2012 campaign against Russia on June 8.

On paper, the Czechs have landed in the easiest of the four groups alongside Russia, Greece and co-hosts Poland.It’s a manageable group and there are no obvious favourites in the group of life.The Nároďáks are ranked 26th in the world.Milan Baros was the top scorer at Euro 2004 with 5 goals in 5 matches.The Galatasaray striker is one of the senior members of the team with 87 caps and 40 goals.

The Czechs haven’t missed any European Championship since they evolved into Czech Republic from Czechoslovakia and have probably been the unluckiest participants since then, leaving the championships in dramatic circumstances all the time.

The team had lost its reputation after the golden generation of Nedved,Koller and Poborsky had retired. It was time  for rebuilding.The team put together a mature piece of performance at the Euro 2012 Play-offs.

Statistics against

Poland:

Poland met Czech Republic in the 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign.Each of the sides won their home match.Czech Republic lost 2-1 in Poland but  beat Poland in Prague.

Russia:

The only time the teams met was at Euro 96 Group C last day match, when the substitute Vladimir Smicer’s 89th minute goal ended the wonderful 6-goal encounter between the teams and gave Czech Republic a chance to reach the quarterfinals and go all the way to the final. The game ended 3-3.However, Dick Advocaat lost two and tied one match against Czech Republic, while in charge of Netherlands national team.

Greece:

Czech Republic has never scored against Greece and the most memorable match between these two still remains the Euro 2004 semifinal, where the hot favorites conceded a silver goal from Traianos Dellas in the 105th minute, leaving the Greeks only one step to complete their fabulous fairy tale.

EURO FLOPS| Cech howler kicks Czech out

The Czechs scored the opening goal of EURO 2008 when they beat Switzerland 1-0 but were eliminated after losing 3-1 and 3-2 to Portugal and Turkey respectively.Jaroslav Plašil is the only member of the current team who scored one of Czech Republic’s 4 goals at the last European Championship.

Leading 2-1 against Turkey with just two minutes left, Czech Republic had one foot in the quarter-finals until Cech’s howler. The Chelsea keeper horribly fluffed a routine cross for the equaliser, before an injury-time winner sent his side packing.

That exit was the end of the golden generation as veterans like Jan Koller,Galasek,Ujfalusi,Jankulovski and Blazek were past their prime.

HOW THEY QUALIFIED

Lead by captain Tomas Rosicky, the Czech Republic finished second in Group I in Euro 2012 qualification, and secured qualification via a 3-0 playoff aggregate victory against Montenegro.

GROUP I
GP GD PTS
1 Spain (Q) 8 8 0 0 20 24
2 Czech Republic (Q) 8 4 1 3 4 13
3 Scotland 8 3 2 3 -1 11
4 Lithuania 8 1 2 5 -9 5
5 Liechtenstein 8 1 1 6 -14 4

TOP SCORERS

4 – Michal Kadlec,

2 – Jaroslav Plasil, Jan Rezek
1 – Milan Baros, Roman Hubnik, Petr Jiracek, Vaclav Kadlec, Tomas Necid, Vaclav Pilar, Tomas Sivok

PAST RECORDS IN THE EUROS

1960
Entered as Czechoslovakia
1988
Entered as Czechoslovakia
1964
Entered as Czechoslovakia 1992
Entered as Czechoslovakia
1968
Entered as Czechoslovakia 1996
Runners-up
1972
Entered as Czechoslovakia 2000
Group stage
1976
Entered as Czechoslovakia 2004
Semi-finalists
1980
Entered as Czechoslovakia 2008
Group stage
1984
Entered as Czechoslovakia 2012
Qualified through play-offs

The Czech Republic, who have qualified for the European Championships on every occasion since becoming an independent nation in 1993, came close to causing a major upset at their first tournament in 1996, beating Italy, Portugal and France on their way to losing the final in extra time against Germany at Wembley.

COACH | Michal Bilek

“I never thought I’d quit.There was sometimes too much criticism and sometimes it wasn’t justified. I’m glad I’ve stayed with the team.”- Michal Bilek

Michal Bilek (47)  is very much a local product, having spent practically his entire career in the Czech Republic (or Czechoslovakia).Once a valued midfielder and respected club coach, Michal Bilek still has some way to go to cement his reputation on the world stage, despite steering the Czech Republic to the Euro 2012 finals.His claim to fame is his performance at the 1990 FIFA World Cup, when he scored twice for Czechoslovakia, once against the United States in a 5-1 mauling of the Americans, and once in a tight 1-0 victory over Austria.

He’s been the manager of the national team since 2009, when his former boss, Ivan Hasek, resigned following his failure to take the Czechs to the World Cup.The only international experience Bilek had before this job was with the national team U-19 Czech Republic team.It is obvious that he has no superstars in the team. Experts consider this team as one of the Euro 2012 weakest teams.Czechs were lucky enough to get Russia, Greece and Poland, to share the two lucky tickets to quarterfinals.

Bilek on Monday announced a provisional 24-man squad for the upcoming Euros.

Here are the 24 players :

Goalkeepers: Petr Cech(Chelsea/ENG), Jan Lastuvka (Dnepropetrovsk/UKR), Jaroslav Drobny (Hamburg/GER), Tomas Grigar (Teplice)

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

Midfielders: Tomas Rosicky (Arsenal/ENG), Jaroslav Plasil (Bordeaux/FRA), Jan Rezek (Famagusta/CYP), Daniel Kolar (Plzen), Petr Jiracek (Wolfsburg/GER), Milan Petrzela (Plzen), Vaclav Pilar (Plzen), Tomas Hubschman (Shakhtar Donetsk/UKR)

Forwards: Milan Baros (Galatasaray/TUR), David Lafata (Jablonec), Tomas Pekhart (Nurnberg/GER), Tomas Necid (CSKA Moscow/RUS)

 THE CAPTAIN | Tomas Rosicky

“I still believe I have plenty in me – we’ll see how it all goes, but right now I feel great and want to continue this way” -Tomas Rosicky

At the beginning of the 2006–07 season, Rosický was made captain of the Czech Republic national side, replacing Pavel Nedvěd.Tomas Rosicky (31) is one of Arsene Wenger’s favourite players. He is a player of outstanding vision, nicknamed “The Little Mozart” for his orchestrating abilities. His genius right foot passes and powerful shots have upset many defenders and goalkeepers.

Rosicky emerged with Sparta aged 19, playing in 12 UEFA Champions League matches.He won the Czech title in each of his first two seasons, leaving halfway through the third to join Dortmund.He is renowned for his penetrating runs, creativity and passing accuracy on the pitch which contributed a lot to the team’s attacking play. Rosický specializes in using of the outside of his right foot to make quick and swerving passes. He has also scored regularly from long distances with his powerful shots.

He earned an international call-up in his debut season and was chosen for EURO 2000, where he started two matches; his strong showing at EURO 2004 was surpassed at the 2006 FIFA World Cup, when he scored two stunning goals in the opening group game against the United States, one of which was from 35 yards out and was nominated for the 2006 World Cup best goal. The Czech Republic went out at the World Cup in the group stages, with Rosický forced to move into the attack after injuries to both of the country’s star strikers, Jan Koller and Milan Baroš.He has scored 20 goals in 85 caps for his country.

He won the Bundesliga and reached the UEFA Cup final in his first full season at Dortmund; played alongside fellow Czech international Jan Koller for five seasons, scoring 20 goals in 149 Bundesliga outings.When Rosický first arrived at Borussia Dortmund, his arrival cost the team €14.5 million, a Bundesliga record transfer.

Rosicky joined Arsenal after the 2006 FIFA World Cup and scored the winner on his UEFA Champions League debut for the Gunners against Hamburger SV – his first return to Germany.

He had struck nine goals in 44 Premier League appearances until a career-threatening hamstring injury sustained against Newcastle United FC in January 2008 sidelined him for 18 months; scored on his comeback, at Manchester City.

He was rewarded with a new Arsenal contract in March 2012 after a series of strong displays domestically and in the UEFA Champions League, where he scored in a man-of-the-match performance as the Gunners so nearly overturned a 4-0 first-leg deficit against AC Milan in the round of 16.

Rosicky is not very consistent in his performances due to many injuries. If not the disastrous hamstring tendon injury right when his career was flourishing, Rosicky’s talent could have brought him much more glory.Rosický missed Euro 2008 due to injury.

Since his recovery from the 18-month absence, Rosicky has struggled for form and has not been able to hold down a first team position on a regular basis but remains a key figure for the national team, having set up six of his side’s 15 goals during qualification for Euro 2012. He will turn 32 this October and this is probably the last chance for this great midfielder to show the world what a top class player he is, and he will probably do so.He scored 6 goals in all competitions for Arsenal this season.

Rosický is a very good guitarist. Rosický was able to hone his guitar skills during his 18 months on the sidelines because of his hamstring injury.

TALENT | Tomáš Pekhart

‘Generally with England teams there are a lot of stars in the side and sometimes they cannot play like a team.  Everyone there wants to beat players and show something special. There are so many stars, so everyone just wants to be a star. They want to do tricks and shine. I was at Tottenham and I know there is a lot of pressure on the English players. Maybe they cannot cope. I don’t know. But it is different for us (Czechs). We don’t have too many stars and as a result we play compact like a team together.’– Tomas Pekhart .

Czech Republic has always led to talented young star like Tomas Necid and Fenin.But there is also Tomas Pekhart.

A prolific marksman at youth level for the Czech Republic, boasting a record haul of 17 goals for the Under-21s, Tomáš Pekhart (22) has still not scored for the senior national team (9 caps), but the tall, powerful young striker remains the heir apparent to the country’s all-time top scorer Jan Koller.

A youth player at SK Slavia Praha, he was signed by English club Tottenham Hotspur FC in 2006 after a glut of goals for the Czech Republic’s Under-17 side; he also starred at the 2007 FIFA Under-20 World Cup in Canada, reaching the final against Argentina in which the Czechs finished runners up after Inter Milan’s Mauro Zárate scored the winner.Pekhart was the youngest player in the squad having just turned 18. He played in all seven matches of the tournament.

Unable to break into the Tottenham first team, he was sent on loan to second-tier Southampton FC and spent half a season there, scoring one league goal, before Spurs sent him back to the Czech Republic for a further loan spell at SK Slavia Praha.

He scored his first 1. Liga goals in back-to-back wins against FK Jablonec and FK Zlín in March 2009 and joined Jablonec the following season and impressed sufficiently to win his first senior cap in a May 2010 friendly versus Turkey.

Pekhart scored11 goals for Jablonec in the first half of the 2010/11 campaign, which earned him a mid-season loan transfer to AC Sparta Praha, for whom he added seven further strikes to finish second in the 1. Liga scoring charts – one behind his Jablonec strike partner David Lafata.

He moved to German Bundesliga club FC Nürnberg in July 2011 shortly after helping his country to the semi-finals of the UEFA European Under-21 Championship in Denmark with a late winning goal against England.He featured in each of the Czechs’ last five UEFA EURO 2012 qualifiers, starting the two play-off matches against Montenegro as the team’s lone striker.


STAR PLAYER |  Michal Kadlec

“My surname was actually more of a disadvantage, because people have certain expectations of the son of a famous footballer. But it was something I always anticipated. I managed to silence the critics and go my own way, and it’s fantastic that it’s worked out so well,” -Michal Kadlec.

Miroslav Kadlec rates as one of the most successful players ever to emerge from the former Czechoslovakia. Following the nation’s split into two separate countries, the elegant defender became captain of the Czech Republic and led his team all the way to the final of UEFA EURO 1996, the greatest triumph in the young association’s footballing history.

Sixteen years later, Kadlec’s son Michal (27) is seeking to follow in his father’s footsteps.He is every bit as important and influential to the current team. A calm, composed defender who is equally adept at left-back, his trusty left foot and aerial ability are useful assets at set pieces. Just like his dad, the Bayer Leverkusen left-back has become a fixture in the German top flight  and is now set for his second shot at European glory.

The younger Kadlec spent much of his childhood in Germany, where his father had eight seasons with FC Kaiserslautern, but returned to his homeland to begin his professional career with 1. FC Synot.

He joined AC Sparta Praha in January 2005 and won the Czech title at the first attempt.He was also crowned champion a second time in 2007 and scooped a hat-trick of Czech Cups with the country’s most decorated club, scoring in the shoot-out during the 2006 and 2008 finals.

Kadlec made his UEFA Champions League debut in a 1-1 home draw against Ajax in September 2005 and started all six group games for Sparta that season.He played for the Czech Republic at the 2007 UEFA European Under-21 Championship in the Netherlands and made his senior debut in his country’s penultimate UEFA EURO 2008 qualifier – a 3-1 win against Slovakia – but had just ten minutes of action at the final tournament against Turkey, which ended in a dramatic 3-2 defeat for the east Europeans and a premature trip home.He joined Bayer 04 Leverkusen in 2008 and became a star turn at the Rhineland club, notably in helping Jupp Heynckes’ team to the runners-up spot in 2010/11, which brought guaranteed qualification for the following season’s UEFA Champions League, in which he scored against holders FC Barcelona in the round of 16.He was ever-present in the Czech Republic’s successful UEFA EURO 2012 qualification.The left-back was on the pitch for all 900 minutes of the campaign and finished as the team’s top scorer on four goals, including a vital late penalty in Scotland.The defender has scored 7 goals in 33 appearances for the Czechs.Kadlec is certainly not short on confidence as he seeks to follow in the footsteps of his famous father.

 

EXPERIENCE  | Petr Cech

“It’s a final and you would think that the chances are 50-50, but to play at your own stadium and have your own dressing room is a huge advantage”-Petr Cech

Petr Čech (29) was awarded the Golden Ball as the Czech Republic’s player of the season  for a record seventh time on Monday after topping a poll of journalists. He holds the record for the fewest appearances required to reach 100 clean sheets in the Premier League – 180 − and in 2004/05 set an English top-flight record of 1,024 minutes without conceding.

He is the most experienced member of the team with 89 caps.A major prospect in his youth, Čechbecame a European champion at Under-21 level with the Czech Republic in 2002 when he saved two penalties in the final shoot-out against France in Basel.After making his senior international debut on 12 February,2002 against Hungary, he soon replaced Pavel Srníček as his country’s No1.

He had spells at Chmel Blšany, Sparta Praha and Rennes before he moved to Chelsea in 2004 after being named Goalkeeper of the French League in the 2003–04 season. Since then he has earned a succession of team and personal honours.

He was named in the All-Star Squad at EURO 2004 after conceding four goals in four games as the Czech Republic reached the semi-finals; ever-present at the 2006 FIFA World Cup and UEFA EURO 2008, where he made a costly error in the final group game against Turkey.

In the last group game of the final tournament, Čech was beaten three times in the final 15 minutes as Turkey overcame a two-goal deficit to knock the Czechs out. Čech had a cross slip through his hands, allowing Nihat to score the second.The keeper accepted the blame for his side’s defeat and reportedly considered retiring from international football after the match.

The goalkeeper who has been obliged to wear a rugby-style headguard for the rest of his career,was a  UEFA Champions League runner-up to Manchester United FC in 2008, despite saving a penalty in the final shoot-out from Cristiano Ronaldo.He has won the FA Cup on four occasions (2007, 2009, 2010, 2012), most recently this season when his side beat Liverpool.He is a  multiple winner of the UEFA Club Goalkeeper of the Year award, Čech helped Chelsea to Premier League title triumphs in 2004/05, 2005/06 and 2009/10.

The goalkeeper will face Mario Gomez  Bayern Munich in the  UEFA Champions League final this weekend before he joins his countrymen.He still has the chance to make amends for last four year’s failure.

Czechs should pray Petr Cech  has one of the best tournaments because this might be his last.

This article was written by Nana Abiri (@NOKA88)
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