Group D

Czech Republic

Gone are the days when the Czechs were part of football’s elite. Still, Pavel Vrba has created a side that aren’t easy on the eye but aren’t easy to beat, either. They won’t fear anyone, even in a tough group.

The Lowdown

Lesson from qualifying

Give Petr Cech some help. Topping a very hard group was impressive but the Czechs didn’t keep a single clean sheet, conceding the first goal in five of their 10 games. In all, they let in 14 – more than Estonia, Bulgaria, Scotland and Finland, among others, and by far the most of any team to qualify.

Strengths

This is a determined, coherent unit, capable of causing a major upset.

Weaknesses

The likes of Milan Baros and Jan Koller are no more, and this squad lacks potency upfront. Experienced Sparta Prague striker David Lafata scores for fun in the Czech league but toils against stiffer opposition, while Matej Vydra is yet to truly convince.

Most likely to...

See Cech and Tomas Rosicky at a major tournament for the last time. The Arsenal duo, with well over 200 caps between them, will want to bow out on a high.

Least likely to...

Go 10 minutes without a commentator making a bad pun about Milan Skoda.

What they hope will happen

Replicate Euro 96, when the new nation unexpectedly made the final.

What will happen

In an unpredictable group, the Czechs could be heading straight home or get as far as the last eight. A leaky defence makes the former a more likely outcome.

Key player - Vladimir Darida

Petr Cech and David Limbersky are integral parts of the team, but Darida is crucial to Czech chances at Euro 2016. With limited creative options in the squad, the pressure’s on the slightly-built Hertha Berlin midfielder to instigate attacks.

Manager - Pavel Vrba

Vrba made his name at Viktoria Plzen, winning two league titles and one Czech Cup during a five-year tenure, before succeeding the unpopular Michal Bilek at the helm of the national team in January 2014.

Q&A - Jaroslav Plasil

What was the key to winning a difficult qualifying group?

Beating the Netherlands in the first match gave us a big boost: they’d finished third at the World Cup just three months earlier. We followed that with three more wins in a row.

Pavel Nedved says it’s better for the Czech mentality to be drawn into a tough group as outsiders, as you were in Euro 96. Do you agree?

It may be true that tougher groups motivate us more. I know it was a similar situation in 1996. But I also remember the last Euros, when we faced Russia, Greece and Poland, and fans said we had to go through because it was an easy group.

You’ve been in the past three Euros – how does this squad compare?

You can’t compare it to 2004, when we had leaders from Europe’s best clubs. But in 2012 there was a large group of good players from the Czech league, as there is now. They’ve matured with European experience and will want to show their skills to get offers from abroad.

You’re on 97 caps – what would reaching 100 mean to you?

I don’t think about it too much. If it happens, I’ll be proud; if it doesn’t but we get out of the group, I’ll be happy.

Fixtures and results

FIXTURES

June 13, Spain - Toulouse, 9pm

June 17, Croatia - Saint-Etienne, Midnight

June 22, Turkey - Lens, 3am

HOW THEY QUALIFIED

Group A winners

vs Netherlands (H) 2-1

vs Turkey (A) 2-1

vs Kazakhstan (A) 4-2

vs Iceland (H) 2-1

vs Latvia (H) 1-1

vs Iceland (A) 1-2

vs Kazakhstan (H) 2-1

vs Latvia (A) 2-1

vs Turkey (H) 0-2

vs Netherlands (A) 3-2

EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIP RECORD

1996 Runners-up

2000 Group stage

2004 Semi-finals

2008 Group stage

2012 Quarter-finals

Words Martin Rendek; Interview Karel Haring

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