By Mark Smith | Czech Republic Expert
The Czech Republic became an independent nation in 1993 after splitting from neighbouring Slovakia, but they officially announced themselves to world football in 1996.
That summer, Pavel Nedved, Karel Poborsky and Vladimir Smicer would embark on a journey that saw them come within touching of winning the European Championship.
Pavel Nedved’s influence for the Czech Republic has been unrivalled. He was the driving force, the fulcrum and heartbeat of a side that would relentlessly attack teams into submission.
Whilst Euro '96 was the beginning of an era, Euro 2004 was the beginning of the end for Nedved, Smicer and Poborsky as all would see their influence diminish as retirement beckoned.
"Vaclav Pilar has been dubbed 'the Czech Messi' for his exploits with Viktoria Plzen"
Years of disappointment were to follow. But things could be about to change as the class of 2012 are preparing for this summer’s European Championships in Poland and Ukraine. This current crop of players can be considered ‘late bloomers’. Theodor Gebre Selassie and Petr Jiracek are 25 and 26-years-old respectively - both are immensely talented yet have just 18 caps between them.
Jiracek is a central midfielder who can control and dictate the tempo of a game; he has Champions League experience with Viktoria Plzen and seems to come alive during the big games.
The midfielder is somewhat reminiscent of Pavel Nedved; it’s not just his flowing hair that has drawn comparisons but his influence on his team-mates. He may not ooze the class and style Nedved had on the ball, but his contribution to this current side should not be underestimated.
The Czechs can call upon players with flair and creativity if required. Vaclav Pilar has been dubbed the ‘Czech Messi’ for his exploits with Hradec Kralove, and more recently, Viktoria Plzen. The tricky 23-year-old winger provides width, invention and will often leave defenders on the seat of their pants with his mazy runs.
Petr Cech has had the luxury of a consistent pairing of John Terry and Gary Cahill in front of him at Chelsea. But it’s a different story for the Czech Republic; the central defensive unit has been a problem. Roman Hubnik, the Hertha Berlin centre-back, has looked out of his depth in recent games.
The right side of the pitch, however, is comfortably manned by the marauding right back, Theo Gebre Selassie. The 25-year-old has gone from strength-to-strength since his debut against Peru in June 2011. Theo gives the side great balance, providing pace and energy to compliment the trickery and guile of Vaclav Pilar on the left wing. Michal Bilek admits that he prefers to play sides which like to attack; this allows the Czechs to soak up pressure and hit quickly on the break, utilising the pace of the wide men.
It’s difficult trying to draw comparisons with this group of players versus the Nedved era, as they possesses different qualities, and should be judged on their own merits. But with players like Gebre Selassie, Jiracek and Pilar, the future of the Czech Republic is in safe hands.
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