Czech Republic find themselves in a tricky group at the Euro Championships, placed alongside Turkey, Spain and Croatia in Group D. Arguably the weakest team of the group, Czech, however, have an attacking game that could make them giant killers.
Coach Pavel Vrba could be likened to former Croatia boss Niko Kovac. Like the latter, Vrba too is accused of being in love with his starting XI to an extent where he doesn't make changes and persists with his preferred team, even continuing to bench players who should be getting more chances. For instance, Tomas Necid should ideally be leading the line over David Lafata.
Former Arsenal midfield maestro Tomas Rosicky is still Czech Republic's most important player and the one man key to their aspirations. The 35-year-old missed almost the entire domestic league season for Arsenal, but has made a full recovery in time to lead the Czech Republic at the Euro championships.
In fact, their over dependence on Rosicky could be one of the biggest problems for the Czechs. When the midfield maestro is on top of his game, the entire team moves flawlessly. There is little doubt over the former Dortmund man's ability and he is truly phenomenal when on song. However, when he struggles, the entire team struggles. They move sluggishly, they seem severely handicapped in the middle of the pitch, and the transition from defence to attack becomes slower and almost non-effective.
Vladimir Darida, 10 years younger than Rosicky, has already proven that he is capable of slotting in for the captain adequately. But will coach Vrba trust him enough? The Hertha Berlin playmaker is a very versatile option, capable of playing anywhere in the midfield. From shielding the back four to slotting in behind the striker, Darida has done a very effective job for his club this season. But it is likely that Vrba will keep faith in the country's talisman Rosicky and play Darida behind him as a midfield pivot.
While that is understandable, and Rosicky is a club and country legend, and Vrba will argue he is utilising the talents of both him and Darida. However, the 25-year-old has been most effective playing the attacking role for his German club — he can shoot from distance and is a creative threat — playing him behind means not extracting the most out of his abilities. One can only hope for Vrba's sake that his rigidity doesn't cost him.
The Czechs usually line up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, where both wingers are moving forward and providing width to the team in front of the full-backs, supporting the lone forward, Tomáš Necid. Behind him will be an attacking trident of Dockal, Rosicky and Ladislav Krejcl. The two-man midfield axis would probably comprise Darida and Plasil. The country's most capped player of all time, goalkeeper Petr Cech, will have Kaderabek, Sivok, Suchy and Limbersky in front of him. Šural, Skalák and Lafata are likely to miss out on starting XI positions.
Krejcl and Necid, especially, are two talented players who would want to make the most of this opportunity. Krejcl operates primarily as a left winger for his club Sparta Prague. He had two goals and two assists in the Europa League last season (as per www.transfermarkt.com). Striker Necid plies his trade for Turkish side Bursaspor and scored 11 goals in 28 games for them last season.
Vrba likes attacking football and it is evident in the way his sides play. Most of the Czech Republic's weaknesses lie with their defence. Their full-backs are supposed to provide the team with width but also ensure that they are able to track back in time to contain opponents' wingers. And in this regard, left-back Limbersky isn't as sharp, while right-back Kaderabek has also been caught out of position far too often.
Czech came very close to winning the tournament 20 years ago. That was a team which featured big names like Pavel Nedved, Patrik Berger and Vladimir Smicer, names which have been associated with big trophies. There are claims Vrba's team cannot go far this time since they don't have "big name players" other than Petr Cech and Tomas Rosicky, both on the wrong side of their 30s and both players who have struggled with fitness. However, it must be noted that Nedved and Co were hardly household fixtures at the start of a fairytale 1996 tournament that included supposedly unlikely wins against Portugal and France. It was down to a cruel golden goal by Germany that kept the Czech away from a win.
Vrba has chosen a side primarily comprising little-known players, players plucked from the domestic Czech league, and mainly just to two teams — Sparta Prague and Viktoria Plzen. Nothing can be a given in cup competitions and perhaps Czech Republic could well be the unlikely winners of a tough Group D. And once they are out of the group, anything can happen in the knockout stages. Czech might just be the surprise package of the entire tournament.
Realistically, however, the round-of-16, if they make it, is about as far as the Czechs are likely to go.