Group A: Czech Republic Ã¢ÂÂ Might Not Surprise A Few People
The Back of the Net team continue their countdown to Euro 2012 with Paul Watson studying Group A's last and possibly least team, Czech Republic...
Past tournaments have shown that you underestimate the Czechs at your peril. However, thatÃ¢ÂÂs unlikely to happen because this Czech team is exactly as good as you think they are.
Tournament PedigreeDespite being rank outsiders, Czechoslovakia won the tournament in 1976. However, since the Czech RepublicÃ¢ÂÂs divorce with Slovakia in the early 1990s it only has the title on weekends and holidays.
The Czechs reached the final of Euro 96 but it was under centuries-old coach Karel BrÃÂ¼ckner that they truly became a force to be reckoned with. Despite often referring to his team as Austria-Hungary, Bohemia or middle-Pangaea, BrÃÂ¼ckner had a mastery of tactics. A strike partnership of the thirteen-foot Jan Koller and dog-like ball-chaser Milan Baros proved devastating Ã¢ÂÂ backed up by Pavel Nedved, who excelled in a position around three inches offside.
The Czechs played sensational football to reach the semi-finals of Euro 2004 but fell to Greece, who bundled home a Silver Goal in extra-time. It was especially unlucky as the Silver Goal rule had only been invented halfway through the first half, replacing the unpopular Golden Goal rule and predating the baffling Ruthenium Goal rule.
Road to the FinalsThe Czechs started their 2012 qualification campaign badly with a 2-0 defeat against Lithuania and struggled to make up ground despite ruthlessly thrashing Liechtenstein 2-0, twice.
A pivotal point came with a hugely controversial late penalty to draw 2-2 with Scotland. Jan Rezek dived to win the spot-kick, becoming public enemy No.1 in Scotland, and didnÃ¢ÂÂt help matters in his post-match interview where he insisted Danny Wilson had tripped him before adding that he had "thought Scotland was a province in England" and that Irn Bru was "just stale Fanta".
Coach: Michal BilekBilek is not the most popular of coaches. Indeed, in a recent poll 96% of Czechs wanted to see him sacked. Of the remaining 4%, 3% stated a desire to see him killed instead and 1% gave answers that actually related to former Middlesbrough striker Mikkel Beck.
Man To Watch: Petr CechChampions League hero Cech will be looking to eradicate memories of Euro 2008. Leading Turkey 2-1 in the dying minutes of a must-win group match, the usually flawless Ã¢ÂÂkeeper gifted Nihat Kahveci an equaliser by letting the ball squirm from his grasp. Moments later Cech was again at fault as Nihat scored a winner. On an error-strewn evening Cech also accidentally sent a case of expensive wine to NihatÃ¢ÂÂs address rather than his and correctly filed the Turkish playerÃ¢ÂÂs tax return.
More from Back of the NetGroup A: Poland Ã¢ÂÂ¢ Russia Ã¢ÂÂ¢ Greece Ã¢ÂÂ¢ Czech RepublicGroup B: Netherlands Ã¢ÂÂ¢ Germany Ã¢ÂÂ¢ Portugal Ã¢ÂÂ¢ Denmark Group C: Spain Ã¢ÂÂ¢ Italy Ã¢ÂÂ¢ Croatia Ã¢ÂÂ¢ Republic of Ireland Group D: Ukraine Ã¢ÂÂ¢ England Ã¢ÂÂ¢ France Ã¢ÂÂ¢ Sweden