As the EURO 2012 approaches, Extratime.ie will take an indepth look into each participating team. Finbarr O'Sullivan looks at the EURO 2012 Group A side Czech Republic.
Czech Republic manager Michal Bílek has announced his provisional squad for Euro 2012. Bílek seems to have his full squad already in mind. He picked 24 players in his provisional squad, four of which are goalkeepers.
As UEFA's rule stipulates that three of the final 23-man squad must be goalkeepers, one of these four will be the unlucky one when Bílek confirms his squad on May 29. With Petr ?ech firmly established as the Czech number one and Jaroslav Drobný a more than capable deputy, the battle for the final place will be fought between Jan Lašt?vka and Tomáš Grigar.
Before the deadline for submitting the squad, the Czechs will travel to Austria for a pre-tournament training camp and will face Israel in Graz on May 26. The Czechs will have a second friendly, against Hungary on June 1, before they begin their Euro 2012 campaign a week later.
There are no surprises in Bílek's selection as he keeps faith with the players that brought him this far. League runners-up Viktoria Plzen are the most represented side with five players included. Interestingly, of the 24 men selected, 11 have fewer than 10 international appearances.
Goalkeepers: Petr ?ech (Chelsea), Jaroslav Drobný (Hamburger SV), Tomáš Grigar (Teplice), Jan Lašt?vka (Dnipro Dnipropetrivsk).
Defenders: Michal Kadlec (Bayer Leverkuse), Marek Suchý (Spartak Moscow), Tomáš Sivok (Besiktas), Daniel Pudil (Granada), Roman Hubník (Hertha BSC), Theodor Gebre Selassie (Slovan Liberec), Daivd Limberský (Viktoria Plzen), František Rajtoral (Viktoria Plzen).
Midfielders: Tomáš Rosický (Arsenal), Jaroslav Plašil (Bordeaux), Tomáš Hubschman (Shakthar Donetsk), Jan Rezek (Anorthosis Famagusta), Milan Petržela (Viktoria Plzen), Daniel Kola? (Viktoria Plzen), Václav Pila? (Viktoria Plzen), Petr Jirá?ek (Wolfsburg).
Forwards: Milan Baroš (Galatasaray), Tomáš Necid (CSKA Moscow), David Lafata (Jablonec), Tomáš Pekhart (Nurnberg).
It was far from plain sailing for the Czechs on their route to Euro 2012. Drawn as the second seeds in Group I along with Spain, Scotland, Lithuania and Liechtenstein; the Czechs were heavy favourites to comfortably finish second and get into the play-offs. While ultimately reaching their goal, they only sealed their place there in the final round of games with the help of Spain's defeat of Scotland.
The Czech Republic were in shock after they lost their opener at home to Lithuania but recovered and picked up three wins in the next four. The one game they didn't win was a 2-1 defeat in Granada to a Spanish side who finished the qualifying campaign with a perfect record. They followed up with a win over Liechtenstein but a 2-2 draw in Hampden Park, courtesy of an injury-time penalty from Michal Kadlec, was followed by a 2-0 home defeat by Spain, while Scotland had picked up two wins in the meantime and had overtaken them for the second place, meaning they went into final game away to Lithuania, needing a win or a draw and a Scottish defeat.
In the end, when it mattered, they stepped up and cruised to a 4-1 victory, burying the ghosts of that opening day defeat and, in the process, pipping Scotland to second-place as they lost 3-1 in Alicante.
The Czechs were seeded in the play-off draw and got drawn against a Montenegro side which had defied the odds and finished second in their group, despite being fourth seeds. Again, the Czech Republic delivered when it mattered and won 2-0 at home and 1-0 away (Montenegro's first defeat at home during qualification) to seal a place in Poland and Ukraine.
Goals were a problem for the side as they only scored more than two goals in one match during qualification (this in a group that included Liechtenstein), the all-important final group match against Lithuania. Their top-scorer was their left-back Michal Kadlec with four, three of which came from the penalty spot. Milan Baroš, who has scored 40 goals for his country, only hit the back of the net once.
Undoubtedly, the man between the sticks: Petr Cech. Although he's not the player he was before his head injury, he will be crucial to keeping the Czechs in the tournament, especially if their goal-shyness continues.
Despite what's happened elsewhere, Cech's reputation in his homeland has never dropped. He has been named the Czech FA's Footballer of the Year a record five times and has won the award in each of the previous four years. He's also won the Czech Golden Ball, the prize awarded by sports journalists, six times in total and in both of the last two years.
His form for Chelsea has been key in their run to the Champions League final and in winning the FA Cup, where his goal-line save from Andy Carroll assured victory.
Other players who will be looked on to deliver for the Czechs are the captain Tomas Rosicky, who this season has been showing some of the form which saw him praised so highly before his arrival at Arsenal, and the highly-rated Petr Jiracek, who moved to VfL Wolfsburg in January after being one of the leading lights in the Czech league.
If Milan Baros fails to add to his 40-goal haul, one possible solution to the Czechs' goalscoring woes is 30-year-old striker David Lafata. Although he has only scored twice in 16 caps, he has been the top-scorer in the Czech league in each of the last two campaigns, with 19 last season and 25 for this one. His total this season also broke the record for most goals by a single player.
Before the tournament begins, the Czechs will prepare with a training camp in the Austrian village of Bad Waltersdorf. They will also play Israel in a friendly in Graz on May 26.
Once the competition kicks off, they will be staying in the city of Wroclaw, in the Monopoly hotel, where they will have three floors all to themselves, with player security being a major concern for the Czech FA.
Luckily for the team, all three of their group games will be played at the Municipal Stadium in Wroclaw. They open against their national enemies Russia on June 8, before taking on Greece in a rematch of the 2004 semi-final on June 12 and finishing the group campaign with a match against the hosts Poland on June 16.
- Since the dissolution of Czechoslovakia in 1993, the Czech Republic have qualified for every edition of the European Championships. In 1996, they pushed Germany all the way as Oliver Bierhoff's golden goal defeated them in the final. In the other three tournaments, they have made it out of the group stages only once: in 2004, when they beat Denmark 3-0 only to be eliminated by the eventual champions Greece in extra-time by Traianos Dellas' header.
- In their previous meetings with Greece, the Czechs have never scored a single goal. They have met three times in total. Their first clash was a 0-0 draw in a friendly held in Greece in April 2002. Their next meeting was a historic one as they went head-to-head in Euro 2004's semi-final and Traianos Dellas became the first and last player to score a silver goal as the Greeks disposed of the Czechs 1-0 on their way to the title. Only six weeks later, they met again in a friendly in Prague which again ended 0-0.
- Similarly, whenever the Czech Republic have faced Poland, there is always a winner and the winner always scores twice. Their first meeting, a friendly in Ostrava in 1997, ended 2-1 to the Czechs. Two years later, in another friendly, this time in Warsaw, it was Poland's turn to win 2-1. In February 2008, they met in Cyprus for a friendly where Poland won 2-0. Eight months later, in the qualifiers for the 2010 World Cup, Poland won 2-1 in Chorzow and a year later in Prague, the Czechs picked up a 2-0 victory.
The Czech Republic have won three of their last five internationals, with all the wins coming during qualification.
They beat Lithuania 4-1 in Vilnius, with Michal Kadlec converting two penalty kicks and Jan Rezek grabbing the other two. Their other two victories came in the play-off against Montenegro, where they won 2-0 (Pilar, Sivok) at home and 1-0 (Jiracek) away.
The other games were a 2-0 defeat to Spain in Prague in October, where the Spaniards dominated and, at the final whistle, had more than 70% of the possession for the entire 90 minutes, and a 1-1 draw in Lansdowne Road, where Milan Baros' goal was cancelled out by Simon Cox's late strike.
Currently working in Brazil, Finbarr will be giving his take on Brazilian football in his regular Extratime.ie column. Finbarr peviously studied in Spain and worked in the Czech Republic and had regular column pieces on local football in both countries. You can email him at: email@example.com