The Czech Republic may only have made one World Cup finals appearance in their history, but this is their fifth European Championships.
Most memorably of all of course was their 1996 appearance in the final against Germany at Wembley, but that Czech side of Pavel Nedved, Patrik Berger and Vladimir Smicer isn’t likely to be matched here, even if Uefa have given them a decent chance to do so.
Placed in the weakest of all the groups alongside Russia, Greece and co-hosts Poland, the Czechs won’t just be eyeing qualification from Group A, but qualification as group winners (4/1 Stan James).
The most open of the groups is also the most difficult to call though, and so a more conservative selection for their backers might be for the Czechs to qualify from Group A (6/4 Ladbrokes), after which they’ll be up against one of the sides who’ve escaped from the ‘group of death’ – Germany, Holland or maybe even Portugal – and so that’s where their tournament will surely end (stage of elimination: quarter finals 2/1 Bet365).
Reaching even that far isn’t going to be easy though, with the Czechs’ toughest match of the group coming in their first game against Russia in Wroclaw on the tournament’s opening day (Russia win 11/10 totesport), where a defeat could well kick off a below-par finals given that they’ll be under pressure to deliver in their next two games.
Coach Michal Bilek was never really under much pressure the moment that the Czech Republic were placed in a qualifying group alongside Spain, with his side pitched into a battle for the lone play-off place alongside Scotland, Lithuania and Liechtenstein, a battle that they were always going to be good enough to win.
Once into the play-offs, a comfortable 3-0 aggregate win over an overwhelmed Montenegro placed the Czechs in Poland and the Ukraine, where although in a group that they would have hand-picked themselves, they aren’t expected to make much of an impression.
One of the older squads at the finals, they’ll be captained by Tomas Rosicky, the Arsenal midfielder whose improved form towards the end of the Gunners’ season earned him a new contract that would have seemed unthinkable when he was both persistently injured and displaying poor form at the start of the campaign.
The 31-year-old will play behind Milan Baros, the now 30-year-old former Liverpool, Aston Villa and Portsmouth striker who was Euro 2004’s top goalscorer (100/1 for an unlikely repeat with SkyBet), and these days plies his trade with Galatasaray in Turkey, where he has consistently found the net in his four seasons.
Other than the familiar face and headgear of Chelsea’s goalkeeper Petr Cech – a crucial addition of quality in an area which is likely to be tested – Bilak doesn’t have many other top level performers to choose from in a squad which is largely made up of Czech League players, although the 22-year-old forward Tomas Necid of CSKA Moscow is highly-rated and could find himself either preferred to or partnering Baros depending on the situation in both the group and individual matches.
The overall situation is unlikely to involve much football past the group stages, with Group A’s final match between the Czechs and Poland in Wroclaw on June 16th looking vital to determine qualification.
If one of the host nations is going to make it into the last eight then it will be the Poles, and with home support cheering them on then the Czechs could struggle here (Poland win 17/10 Bwin) and make an early exit from a tournament which could, unlike previous Euros, merely pass them by.