At various points over the last two decades the Czech Republic have threatened to become one of the dominant forces in World Football.
A runners-up placing at the 1996 European Championship, third place in the 1997 Confederations Cup and a semi-final exit to Greece in 2004 suggested they had the players to win competitions. Now, with an aging squad and a smaller pool of top-class talent, the Czechs must rely on a collective spirit.
FIFA Ranking: 26
Elo Ranking: 21
Best Performance at European Championships: Winners (1976, as Czechoslovakia) Runners up in 1996 in their current form, the Czechs won the tournament when still joined with Slovakia in 1976. An extra-time victory over the Netherlands set up a showdown with reigning World Cup holders West Germany. After a hard fought 2-2 draw, Czechoslovakia emerged 5-3 victors on penalties.
How they qualified: Runners up in Group I. (3-0 aggregate win over Macedonia in playoffs) The Czechs narrowly finished ahead of Scotland, despite the slowest of starts. Defeat at the hands of Lithuania seemed to suggest all was not well with the team, but a win and a controversial late, late draw against Scotland were enough to keep their fate in their own hands. They secured the playoff spot with a win over Lithuania and beat Macedonia 2-0 and 1-0 to advance.
The Boss: Michal Bilek As a player Bilek was part of the Czechoslovakia team which reached the quarter-finals of the 1990 World Cup. He spent the majority of his playing career at Sparta Prague, enjoying four separate spells while also playing for Real Betis and FK Teplice. He took on the managerial job at Teplice and then continued his coaching career in the less-worn path of Cartagines in Costa Rica. After several jobs in his homeland he returned to Sparta Prague as manager, winning the Czech league in his first season. Bilek took the international job for the Czech Republic in 2009, following their failure to reach the 2010 World Cup.
One to watch: Tomas Necid (CSKA) While there are more immediately recognisable names in the Czech side, the majority are experienced internationals in the autumn of their careers. There are only four players in the provisional squad who are under the age of 24. Necid is one of the few younger players who have been brought into the full international fold, and could hold the key to any progression from Group A.
After finishing top scorer in both the 2006 Under 17 and 2008 Under 19 European Championships, the prolific young striker was signed by CSKA from Slavia Prague. Although used relatively sparingly in the Russian league, he has continued to show an eye for goal and averages a goal almost every three games for his country. Necid is likely to start on the bench behind Milan Baros, but is heir apparent to the strikers role.
Likely line-up: Petr Cech will certainly start in goal for the Czechs, with a likely back four of Theodor Gebre Selassie, Tomas Sivok, Michal Kadlec in a centre-back role and David Limbersky on the left. Jaroslav Plasil and Petr Jiracek are the likely options in the middle of the pitch, with Jan Rezek and either Vaclav Pilar or Milan Petrzela out wide. Tomas Rosicky, if fit, will play just behind Milan Baros, with Necid waiting in the wings.
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