It could (and perhaps should) be Scotland taking the place of the Czech Republic at this tournament. After a rather controversial 2-2 draw during qualifying which saw the Czech’s awarded a late penalty after a blatant dive from Jan Rezek resulted in a vital point gained – in the end Scotland finished two points behind the Czech Republic. It could also have been different for another reason, as there was almost a victory over holders Spain, taking the lead against them only to concede two late David Villa goals.
On the whole, it was a poor qualification campaign for the Czech Republic. While the aim and their only realistic option of qualifying was finishing second to Spain to secure a play-off place, however, it was done in unspectacular style – 13 points from eight games suggests this – an eleven point gap separated them from Spain. 2-0 and 1-0 victories over Montenegro in the play-offs saw them book their place at Poland-Ukraine. Runners up in 1996 and semi-finalists in 2004, which is bookended by two group stage exits in 2000 and 2008, coach Michal Bilek has already come under fire after a largely disappointing reign, having made the step up from being an assistant to Ivan Hasek.
Many will recognise and expect big performances from the likes of Petr Cech who suffered in 2008 but has enjoyed a resurgence in form culminating in a Champions League victory this season, along with key men such as Tomas Rosicky and striker Milan Baros – between them Baros, the 2004 golden boot winner and Rosicky have 60 international goals – while the rest of the provisional squad of 24 only have 35 international goals combined. Although, neither were top scorers in qualification – that fell to left-back, Michal Kadlec, albeit three of his four goals came from the penalty spot.
Much like Russia, the Czech’s are an ageing group of players, Rosicky (31) – will want to make up for missing out in 2008 – Baros (30), Cech (30). But revenge will certainly be in their mind having been knocked out in 2004 by eventual champions Greece, the big question is can they replicate that form that propelled them to the semi-finals in 2004 or will it be similar to Austria-Switzerland four years ago resulting in a group stage exit? Anything is possible in this group.
Fixtures: Czech Republic vs. Russia (June, 8th), Czech Republic vs. Greece (June, 12th) and Czech Republic vs. Poland (June, 16th)