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Portugal Euro 2012: A closer look at Czech Republic

With the qualifying rounds of Euro 2012 fast approaching it’s time to take a closer look at Portugal’s opponents in the next round of the competition – Czech Republic.

The Czech’s finished top of Group A qualifying along with Greece, knocking out group favourites Russia and co-hosts Poland in the process. However their process in the tournament didn’t start off that great when they lost their opening match 4-1 toRussia. After struggling to beat Greece 2-1 in their second group match elimination from the competition looked all but certain as they headed into the final group game but they remarkably left it late to beat Poland 1-0.

Czech Republic – FIFA Ranking: 27th

Style of play: Coach Michal Bilek prefers using a 4-2-3-1 formation that allows him to make use of his team’s pace and fluidity in midfield. Milan Baros is the lone striker, serving as the point of attack. He relies on service from the three-man midfield of Tomas Rosicky (who plays in the hole just behind Baros) and the two wide men (Jaroslav Plasil and Jan Rezek). Tomas Hubschman provides cover for the back four as the defensive anchor in midfield, while Petr Jiracek assumes a deep-lying creative role in the centre of midfield. The Czechs defend in numbers, and when they win the ball back they are quick to launch forward on the counter-attack, often led by the fullbacks (Theodor Gebre Selassie and Michal Kadlec) down the wings.

Probable starting formation (4-2-3-1): (GK) Cech – (D) Kadlec, Sivok, Hubnik, Gebre Selassie – (M) Jiracek, Hubschman – (M) Rezek, Rosicky, Plasil (F) Baros

Youth and experience – The retirements of several key veterans forced coach Michal Bilek to introduce a handful of youngsters into the squad, most notably Petr Jiracek. Bilek has built a roster that strikes a complimentary balance between youth and experience.
Tenacity – The Czechs demonstrated during the qualifiers an uncanny ability to remain in games and lull their opponents to sleep before notching the go-ahead goal. It may not always be pretty, but the Czechs seem to find a way to win.
Team unity – The Czech Republic is more than the sum of its parts. Although not blessed with world-class players, the Czechs are a cohesive unit the play as a team and are unified by their self belief — something that served them well during a difficult qualifying campaign.

Lack of quality strikers – It says a lot that defender Michal Kadlec was the team’s top scorer in the qualifiers, registering four of his country’s 12 goals. Starter Milan Baros is not the player he once was, and the Czechs don’t have any other notable options up front. Who is going to provide the offence?
The Rosicky Factor – Midfielder Tomas Rosicky is coming off a strong campaign for Arsenal, and as Czech’s chief creator he is vital to the team’s chances for success. But he is also been hampered by a calf injury and was fighting to get fit before the start of the tournament.
Tactical rigidity -Coach Michal Bilek rarely strays from using his beloved 4-3-2-1 formation, so opponents always know what they’re up against. What’s worse is that Bilek insists on deploying Milan Baros as the lone striker, even though the former Liverpool star has lost his scoring touch.

Players to watch:
Petr Cech -After stopping Arjen Robben in a penalty shootout during Chelsea’s Champions League victory, Cech is hungry for more European glory this summer. Considering how he’s coming off his best season in some time, you shouldn’t be too surprised if he and the Czechs turn some heads at Euro.
Tomas Rosicky – The Czech midfield creator is coming off a strong second half of the season for Arsenal, rediscovering his top form. A brilliant passer of the ball who thinks one or two moves ahead of the game.
Petr Jiracek – The left-sided midfielder has really come on by leaps and bounds this past season, winning plaudits for his poised and balanced performances.
Michal Kadlec – There are not many full-backs with seven international goals to their name but Kadlec is one of them. The Bayern Leverkusen man is regarded as a free-kick specialist.
Tomas Necid – The 22-year-old has only just recovered from a serious knee injury. However, his direct approach could cause problems to opposition defenders.

Squad: GK: Petr Cech, Jaroslav Drobny, Jan Lastuvka, DF: Theodor Gebre Selassie, Roman Hubnik, Michal Kadlec, David Limbersky, Tomas Sivok, Marek Suchy, MF: Tomas Hubschman, Petr Jiracek, Daniel Kolar, Milan Petrzela, Vaclav Pilar, Jaroslav Plasil, Tomas Rosicky, Vladimir Darida, Frantisek Rajtoral, FW: Milan Baros, David Lafata, Tomas Necid, Tomas Pekhart, Jan Rezek
Coach: Michal Bilek – At 47-years-old, Bilek will be one of the youngest managers at the tournament. Having failed to get his nation to the World Cup in 2010, Bilek will be looking for a positive response this time around.

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