Matej Vydra and Czech Republic believe they can get a result against England
Matej Vydra likes the phrase “dark horses” when it comes to describing the Czech Republic’s chances at Euro 2020. “Maybe that is what we are. A bit like Greece,” he says before adding: “Unfortunately we all remember Greece in 2004.”
Unfortunately, that is, for the Czechs. That European Championships in Portugal was supposed to belong to their ‘golden generation’ – the outstanding team of Pavel Nedved, Tomas Rosicky and Petr Cech – who lost out 1-0 in the semi-finals to a ‘Silver Goal’ (a controversial, short-lived concept by which the team leading after the first 15 minutes of extra-time would win) scored by the Greeks.
It was a Czech side, Vydra argues, even better than the one that reached the final of Euro 96 at Wembley. “It was the best in our history,” the Burnley striker says. “If you check the names it was amazing. They should have won the tournament. You know the style that Greece played was like ‘parking the bus’ in the goal. With the silver goal everyone was upset.
“In 96 most of the players played in the Czech Republic. It was a big step for them to go to the top five European leagues and then in 2004 they showed their quality. Hopefully we will show that right now because all of us grew up dreaming about being in this tournament. We all want to show that the 2004 team is not the only team to do what they did. Fingers crossed. Maybe we will be the dark horses.”
The Czechs love the Euros. They are making their seventh successive appearance in the finals and only Germany and France can better that record and, of course, they go into their final Group D as leaders, ahead of England on goal difference and having beaten Scotland 2-0 at Hampden Park and drawn 1-1 with Croatia at the same stadium.
Vydra came on as a substitute against the Scots, for the final 20 minutes, but accepts that in 4-2-3-1 system preferred by coach Jaroslav Silhavy there is only one central striker and Patrik Schick is the man in possession and in form with three goals so far. “But it’s going to be tough for defenders when I come on,” the 29-year-old says, smiling. “They will be tired and I will be fresh.”
The Czechs are confident, as they were before the tournament started, with Nedved having suggested that the nation’s football team was finally on the rise again. “I think maybe they are talking about the squad right now because everyone is at a great age, we have a lot of experience from the top five leagues in Europe and now it’s time to set it up and have a great tournaments,” Vydra says.
So is it a new ‘golden generation’?
“I think we’re a different team from 2004. I mention Milan Baros, Pavel Nedved. They were huge and played for top, top teams. I don’t know if we have anyone like that now but we play like we are all ‘one man’. We are not a massive team with individual players; we work more as a team, working together, fighting for each other,” Vydra explains.
Nevertheless beyond Schick – with his two brilliant goals against Scotland and his penalty against Croatia – Vydra picks out fellow Premier League players, Tomas Soucek and Vladimir Coufal, as crucial and not least because they have built confidence and changed perceptions.
“I think we are growing up as a team, especially over the last two or three years,” Vydra says. “Now Tomas Soucek and Vladimir Coufal play in the Premier League as well and they show they have the quality for this hard competition. That helps the team. We also have quality players in the German and Italian leagues. I don’t know what the average age is but it feels like it’s the best time to show our quality in the tournament.”
- A guide to Czech Republic’s Euro 2020 squad
The fact that West Ham signed Soucek and Coufal from Slavia Prague has encouraged other players. “It shows you can come from the Czech league straight to the Premier League,” Vydra says. “It opens a lot of doors for the guys who are playing in the Czech league which is great because you cannot (normally) see a lot of Czech players coming straight to the Prem.” There is, for example, already interest in another exciting striker, 18-year-old Adam Hlozek, who plays for Sparta Prague and has featured as a substitute in both group games so far.
After Nick Pope’s injury Vydra is Burnley’s sole representative at the tournament – and only the third in the club’s history after Wales’ Sam Vokes and Stephen Ward of the Republic of Ireland – and is relishing the prospect of facing England.
Matej Vydra had a good season with Burnley
Credit: NMC POOL
The former Watford and Derby County forward, who has enjoyed his best-ever season at Turf Moor having featured more regularly, says the Czechs should be encouraged not just by their performances so far but by their 2-1 win in Prague in reaching this tournament that ended England’s 43-game unbeaten run in qualifiers stretching back 10 years.
“Of course that gives us confidence but still England will be one of the tournament favourites,” Vydra says with the Czechs already close to achieving their primary target of reaching the last-16. And then what?
“We will have to see where we finish in the group and take it after that,” Vydra says before adding: “I don’t know…maybe we can repeat what happened in 2004!”