The sight of the Czech Republic’s success in the European Championships remains a painful sight for many a Scottish football fan.
Even this week, Craig Levein used his newspaper column to defiantly (and somewhat ludicrously) claim that had Jan Rezek’s collapse over Danny Wilson’s foot in September not been rewarded with a penalty, then it could even have been the Tartan Army descending upon Warsaw this evening for the first of the competition’s quarter-finals.
As it is some 20,000 Czechs will cross the border into Poland for a slightly longer trip than they have faced in getting to Wroclaw, the most Western of the Euros venues, where they have been based for their three group games.
Like a certain other country it’s hard to avoid the fortunes of, the Czechs have somewhat benefited from historically low expectations to surprisingly top their group.
The names of the golden generation of the 90’s and early 2000’s are hard to avoid in any conversation with Czech football fans. There are even reminders in merely getting to games; the official Czech fans train to the Polish capital this morning was named the Karel Poborský train in memory of the former Manchester United man’s sublime chip, which eliminated the Portuguese at the same stage in Euro 96.
However, despite not having players on the same level as Poborský, Patrick Berger, Vladimir Smicer, Jan Koller and arguably the greatest Czech player of all-time in Pavel Nedved, there is a feeling this tournament has been the first showing of a new generation that can prosper in the coming years.
Theodor Gebre Selassie has been one of the stars of the tournament so far, and as the first black player to play for the national team, he also represents another positive element of the Czech's future. Moreover, Gebre Selassie is a rare thing amongst those on show at modern tournaments, as he is somewhat unknown to the international audience, having turned 25 and remained in his native land with champions Slovan Liberec.
Then there are the two wide players: Petr Jiráček and Václav Pilař. The pair have supplied all four of the Czechs’ goals to date and compensated for the lack of a striker - not in a Levein 4-6-0 manner or even Spain’s ‘sin nueve’ creative-midfielder-fest - but rather because their centre-forward is Milan Baros.
“The Baros joke is a popular one,” says Lukas Vajda, a fan from Prague. “At least when we played Greece it was like 10 v 10 because they had (Georgios) Samaras.”
On more serious matters, Lukas, like most Czechs, is realistic about facing the might of Portugal, and whilst dreaming of possible progression to the semi-finals, is more concerned about being on the end of a drubbing like the one handed to them by Russia in the opening game.
He said: “The key will be the opening 15-20 minutes. If we can stop them from scoring then we can grow into the game and get more confidence, but if we concede early like against Russia then it will be almost impossible because we will have to attack and Portugal are so good on the counter-attack.”
Those counter-attacks, like almost everything in this Portuguese side, will be led by Cristiano Ronaldo. The Real Madrid man brought his 60-goal season club form to the table last time out to ensure Holland departed with nil points from Ukraine. But there could yet be hope for the Czechs when it comes to his defensive duties.
In theory, Portugal’s left side is the strongest part of their team with the Madrid connection between Ronaldo and Fabio Coentrão. These two players cost a combined £110m.
However, all four of the goals Portugal have conceded in the tournament have come from opposition breaks down that side, as Coentrão is often left isolated with Ronaldo waiting up-field for the counter.
That weakness though hasn’t reassured Lukas, especially having watched Ronaldo live already this season with his Real Madrid-fanatic girlfriend, Rocio.
He lamented: “We know that if it is to be Ronaldo’s day we have no chance. We have no one of that quality and if he plays as against Holland it is over because he can score two or three goals himself and we don’t have the players to score enough goals to keep up with him.
“Yet that is our strength in a way. Ronaldo is a great individual, like Pepe or Coentrão or Raul Meireles or Nani but we are more of a team.”
The hope for the Czechs is for that unit to once again come to the fore and in 16 years time to be boarding the Jiráček or Pilař train on another Euros adventure.
Kieran Canning is at the European Championships and will be intermittently filling us in on how the event progresses. You can follow him on Twitter.
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