Road to the Finals
The Czech Republic go into the finals of EURO 2008 full of confidence, having topped their qualifying group. Group D was certainly not one of the easier groups to negotiate, and Germany and Ireland would both provide a tough challenge to the Czechs’ hopes.
The Czech Republic stormed to a great early position by winning their first three games. These included a 2-1 home win over Wales, a 3-0 away win over Slovakia and an almost ridiculous 7-0 home win over San Marino, the clear underdogs of the group.
However, things started to take a turn for the worse when they came home from their trip to Ireland with a 1-1 draw that saw them lose some vital points in their bid for the top spot.
Their hopes were dealt a further blow in their next match when they hosted main rivals Germany in Prague. It was seen as a crucial match in their qualification hopes, but the Germans took a 2-0 lead early on, and a 77th minute goal from Milan Baroš was not enough to get any points out of the game. The loss saw the Germans go three points clear at the top of the table, but qualification was far from over.
Their following game four days later saw them play host to Cyprus, who they managed to dispatch with a single goal. However, their next match in June saw them make a trip to the Millennium Stadium, where they were held to a 0-0 draw by a battling Wales, setting them back in their bid for qualification. However, with five games still to go there was all to play for.
Wins over San Marino and Ireland saw the team on the brink of qualification, and they travelled to Munich on 17th October 2007, knowing that a win would see them through alongside the Germans, whose victory over Ireland three days earlier had seen them through already.
This time it was the Germans time to suffer a home defeat, as the Czechs turned around their away disadvantage to produce a stunning display to win the game 3-0. Goals from Libor Sionko, Marek Matêjovský and Jaroslav Plašil meant that they had qualified for the finals, but it wasn’t over there as the top spot was still up for grabs.
The group was finally won on 21st November 2007, when the team visited Cyprus and stormed to a 2-0 victory. This result, coupled with Germany’s draw with Wales, meant that the Czechs had won the group to ensure that they went into the finals with a huge confidence boost.
Brückner did not enjoy a particularly successful playing career, but when he took over the reigns at Czech team SK Sigma Olomouc, it was obvious that his true credentials were with coaching.
After spells at FK Drnovice, AŠK Inter Bratislavadid and Sigma Olomouc again, he joined up with the national team in 1997, initially managing the Under-21 side and enjoying great success with them. However, he left before their 2002 triumph at the Under-21 European Championships in Switzerland in order to take the reigns of the senior team.
Under his guidance, the national team qualified for EURO 2004 and made it all the way to the semi-finals, where they suffered defeat at the hands of eventual champions Greece. However, his position as coach was not in doubt, and he followed up this success by taking them to the 2006 World Cup. However, hit by a plague of injuries, the team suffered a dismal campaign and went out in the first round.
His leadership has once again been proved in the recent qualifying campaign, but it will be his last with the national team. He has announced that he will be leaving at the end of the tournament, and will be hoping that it is third time lucky in his bid for a trophy.
Ones to watch
Petr Čech – goalkeeper
Petr Čech currently plies his trade for Chelsea, and his ability to keep out goals led them all the way to contend for the 2008 title. His crucial role for the Czech team cannot be underestimated, and the fact that they only conceded five goals during the whole of their qualification campaign can be largely put down to the solid wall of Čech. Helped on by a tough defensive back four, the solid keeper provides them with the confidence that even if they are beaten, his mighty hands will have a say with any striker who fancies his chances.
Milan Baroš – striker
Milan Baroš was the winner of the Golden Boot at EURO 2004, but has since been out of form for both club and country. He only made one appearance at the 2006 World Club due to injury, and failed to make any impression on the tournament. His season at Portsmouth, on loan from Lyon, has been far from spectacular, but his role in helping them to win the FA Cup final cannot be questioned, and it was his important assist to Kanu in the semi-final which decided the game. His credentials as a player cannot be questioned, and he will certainly provide a threat to any opposition they come up against during the tournament.
Jan Koller – striker
Jan Koller is crucial to the success of the Czech Republic in the tournament. He scored six goals in qualifying, three more than second place Baroš, and they will need his firepower to get the goals flowing. Although he has not had a great season with club Nuremberg, scoring only one goal since the winter, his record of 52 international goals speaks for itself, and he will certainly be set to play a large part in the success of the team. His most recent goal came in their game against Denmark in March, where a fantastic header levelled the score and earned the team a draw.
The Czech Republic’s history in competitions is good, most notably their runner-up spot in EURO 1996, but this time they are going into the tournament hampered by injuries, which will no doubt hinder their progress.
In a recent blow to their hopes, Arsenal midfielder and team captain Tomáš Rosický has ruled himself out of the competition due to a tendon injury sustained in January against Newcastle in the 4th round of the FA Cup. With the loss of such a player, whispers of an unlikely return by previous hero Pavel Nedved have been heard, although he has now ruled himself out of a return to international football.
Whatever happens, they will certainly be solid contenders, and many will see them likely to progress from their group and make an impact at the tournament.
Current FIFA ranking: 6
Odds of winning: 15/1