A new chapter for the Czech Republic
The Czech Republic were once one of the world's best teams. Now the relatively new nation is in a transitional period.
Taylor Williams looks at a nation that has produced some world class talent over the years.
World Cup dreams
The Czech Republic have been placed in Group B alongside Italy, Denmark, Bulgaria, Armenia and Malta in their World Cup 2014 qualifying group and as a pot three team, they will be fancying their chances of a play-off berth once qualifying concludes.
Currently managed by Michal Bilek, the Czechs will be looking to go one better than their quarter-final showing at Euro 2012 whereby they were defeated narrowly 1-0 by Portugal who themselves went on to the semi-final where Spain beat them on penalties.
According to the latest FIFA rankings, the Czech Republic are the 19th best side in the world and in comparison to yesteryear, Czech football is experiencing something of a transitional period.
The superhuman exploits of the golden generation encircling Pavel Nedved, Karel Poborsky and Jan Koller are something of a distant memory.
Modern day heroes of the current Czech crop include iconic Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech and Arsenal midfielder Tomas Rosicky (pictured) alongside an array of young talents with Vaclav Pilar, Theodor Gebre Selassie and Tomas Pekhart capturing the eye during Euro 2012.
Let us take a whistle stop tour around the history of the Czech Republic football team.
The Czech Republic are one of the newer European football states having been established following the separation of Czechoslovakia in 1992.
Before this title, they were known and competed as Bohemia and Austria-Hungary but the Czech Republic as we know it today really established themselves on the international stage right here in England at Euro 96.
Reaching the final where they eventually lost to Germany, the Czechs surprised everyone and won many admirers forging success in a squad that included Czech icon Nedved as well as Poborsky, Patrik Berger and Vladimir Smicer.
Under Dusan Uhrin during that tournament, Czech football finally realised that they could cut it with the best in Europe and this was recognised by FIFA, who held the nation as the second best in the world in September 1999.
They achieved this ranking again from January to May 2000 and in April to May 2005.
After showing the world their capabilities in 1996, Czech football experienced something of a golden generation thereafter with qualification secured for the 2006 World Cup as well as successive successful qualifications to European Championships in 2000, 2004, 2008 and this summer.
Semi-finalists in Euro 2004, Karel Bruckner’s Czech squad included some stellar names playing at various top clubs in Europe such as Cech, Rosicky, Marek Jankulovski, Koller and Milan Baros as well as old heads Nedved and Poborsky.
One of the highlights of this so-called generation was their unbeaten run throughout the 2002-03 season. They scored 53 goals in 19 games, easily securing their passage through to Euro 2004 in Portugal.
Whilst the Czech national team retains the services of Arsenal’s Rosicky at present, the captain known as ‘Little Mozart’ is often trumped in the legendary stakes by the shaggy haired former Juventus darling Nedved, who truly was one of the greatest players of his generation.
Retiring from the game in 2009, Nedved earned 91 caps for the Czech Republic upto his retirement from the international scene after the World Cup in 2006.
He crafted a stellar reputation for his tireless crusades down the wing and seemingly endless battery.
A potent goalscorer too, Nedved’s exploits were recognised globally after winning the prestigious Ballon d’Or in 2003 as well as receiving the Golden Foot award the following year.
Nedved can look back on his career and smile that he achieved 666 club games, scoring 146 goals from a predominantly wide area.
Elsewhere, Rosicky continues to flirt with legendary status having racked up over 80 appearances for the national team whilst Koller will always be remembered for his lethal goalscoring abilities.
Any national team would find it problematic in replacing such a talented set of players as witnessed during the mid-2000s and the Czechs were widely viewed as a long shot in terms of winning Euro 2012 but there are a few bright sparks who have made an impression in the current ranks.
Pilar is arguably the most exciting gem to grace the national fold at present with the pintsize playmaker, tricky and direct in his abilities deriving from the flanks.
The 23-year-old secured a summer switch to the Bundesliga with VFL Wolfsburg and his demanding new surroundings will prove the making of the young winger.
Elsewhere, full back Gebre Selassie received widespread applause for his performances at Euro 2012 with the Ethiopian heritage defender energetic up and down the flank, not ignoring his defensive duties either.
He too secured a summer switch to the Bundesliga with Werder Bremen and there is a new generation slowly working its way through.
Italy will be favourites in Group B but Czech football is on the rise once more and they will look at Denmark and Bulgaria as their main competition for a likely play-off spot.
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