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Having failed to qualify for Russia 2018, the Czech Republic will arrive at Euro 2020 as a drastically different team to that which contested their last major tournament.
Gone are the days of Petr Cech standing head and shoulders above everyone in goal with an ageing Tomas Rosicky doing his best to hold things together in front of him.
The Czechs’ group stage exit at Euro 2016 was the end of an era, ushering out two of the most recognisable faces in the national team’s recent history to make space for the next generation.
Runners-up to England in Euro 2020 qualifying, they have been reunited with the Three Lions at the group stage. While Gareth Southgate masterminded a 5-0 win against them at Wembley back in March 2019, they won 2-1 in the reverse fixture at Slavia Prague’s Sinobo Stadium.
Tomas Soucek (left) and Ondrej Celustka battle with Harry Kane during England's 2-1 defeat to the Czech Republic in October 2019
(Image: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)
Scotland will also be familiar opponents, with the two sides meeting in the latest edition of the UEFA Nations League. Scotland won both matches by one-goal margins, but still managed to finish behind the Czechs in their group.
They may not be much fancied, but Jaroslav Silhavy’s side still have enough talent at their disposal to make life difficult for their Group D rivals. With a smattering of Premier League players and a healthy mix of youth and experience, they could make for tricky opposition.
Style of play
Tomas Kalas will feature at the heart of the Czech Republic's defence
(Image: Jon Bromley/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
They may have lost 4-0 in their first warm-up friendly against Italy, but the Czechs have established a reputation for defensive stability.
With two dynamic full-backs in West Ham ’s Vladimir Coufal and Slavia’s Jan Boril either side of a solid centre-back pairing of Sparta Prague’s Ondrej Celustka and former Chelsea loan exile Tomas Kalas – now captain of Bristol City – they have a reliable back four who rarely concede more than one goal a game.
It helps that they have a physically imposing midfield marshalled by Tomas Soucek, who is coming off the back of a breakthrough season with the Hammers. Standing at 6’4 and formidable in the air, he should give them an edge at set pieces at both ends of the pitch.
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The Czechs tend to play either 4-1-4-1, with Soucek as the anchor, or 4-2-3-1 with him alongside Alex Kral in the deep midfield. Kral is another tall, rangy, all-action presence in the middle of the park, though he seems to have modelled his aesthetic on David Luiz.
While the Czechs tend not to concede many goals, they don’t score too many either. Bayer Leverkusen striker Patrik Schick is their main man up front, but he is a mercurial performer for the national team.
Jaroslav Silhavy (right) with Gareth Southgate at the Euro 2020 final draw ceremony in Bucharest
(Image: Dean Mouhtaropoulos)
An uncompromising defender back in his playing days, Silhavy brings the same muscular approach to his teams.
Those who watched England’s 2-1 defeat in Prague two years ago may remember how the Czechs harassed and harried Southgate’s side, bullying them in the air and frustrating their passing game with aggressive pressing all over the pitch.
Silhavy encourages his players to use their natural height and strength to their advantage, but he also demands swift, incisive attacking moves from those further forwards.
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The Czechs may not be the most prolific goalscorers, but they still have the ability to catch their opponents off guard with short, sharp bursts of energy and movement.
When that doesn’t work, he can just send Soucek and the rest of his big lads up for a corner.
Soucek (left) in action against Iceland in 2017
(Image: Francois Nel)
After the season he’s had with West Ham, it’s hard to look past Soucek.
For all his hulking physicality, he is still a technically excellent footballer and one of the most impressive box-to-box midfielders in the Premier League.
While, without Declan Rice alongside him, he may have a more defined defensive role with the Czech Republic, he has still scored a fair few goals for his national team including a hat-trick against Estonia in March.
If he can reproduce his level of performance with West Ham at the Euros, the Czechs will be in with a decent chance of progressing to the knockout rounds.
One to watch
Adam Hlozek (right) charges forwards on his international debut against Slovakia last year
(Image: AFP via Getty Images)
If the Czechs’ forward line struggles to make an impact in their opener against Scotland, expect to see Adam Hlozek come off the bench.
Aged 18, he ended the season as joint-top scorer in the Czech First League with 15 goals for Sparta. That was despite missing just over four months of the campaign with a fractured metatarsal.
Hlozek also registered seven assists, making him the most productive attacker in the league by some distance.
He has already been linked with some of the biggest clubs in Europe and, if he impresses at the tournament, the hype machine could go into overdrive.
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