Czechs’ outside chance of reaching World Cup dashed in Turin

Italy - Czech Republic, photo: CTK

On Tuesday, the Czech national football team faced Italy in Turin –a final chance to try and keep World Cup dreams alive. For part of the match, it appeared the squad was on the right track, taking the lead in the 19th minute. Italy, however, soon struck back.

Italy - Czech Republic,  photo: CTK
The Czech team’s bid for the 2014 World Cup was arguably lost long before Tuesday’s match; as fans on the internet as well as commentators noted, earlier qualification losses to Denmark and most recently to Armenia, only ever left the Czechs an outside chance. Still, the Czech squad on Tuesday came in fighting and got off to a good start: a much-needed early lead. In the 19th minute the team’s Kozák received a perfect cross from Jiráček and struck an unstoppable half-volley past legendary goalie Gianluigi Buffon. It was 1:0 and the Czechs were exactly where they needed to be.

Only, it wouldn’t last. Before half-time, the squad lost its captain and key playmaker Tomáš Rosický to injury and early into the second half things fell apart even more within the space of just three minutes. First, goalie Petr Čech – who had been excellent – misread a corner allowing Italy’s Chiellini to convert. Soon afterwards, Theodore Gebre Selassie brought down Mario Balotelli in the box: he went on to score the penalty. 2:1 was the score and that was how it remained. The loss to the Azzuri put the 2014 World Cup firmly out of the Czechs’ reach and coach Michal Bílek, under immense pressure, announced his resignation almost immediately. It was accepted just as quickly by the chairman of the Czech FA.

Michal Bílek,  photo: CTK
After the match, here’s what Michal Bílek had to say:

“As I said before, I intended to stay on as long as there was a theoretical chance we could advance. But I knew ahead of today’s match that if we lost, I would hand in my resignation.”

Strictly according to the numbers a micro-thin sliver of a chance remains that the Czechs could still advance but it lies firmly in the realm of science fiction: the odds are astronomical, depending not only on the Czechs winning their last two matches but also – and here’s the clincher – seeing favourable results in seven matches(!) across groups B and E. So, for all practical purposes, the Czech bid is dead and buried.

Former coach Michal Bílek again:

“I think there is no longer any chance. It was my view that we needed to win at least one of the last two games and that didn’t happen.”

Tomáš Rosický,  Daniele De Rossi,  photo: CTK
One of the team’s assistant managers is now expected to take over for the interim before the difficult search for a new candidate begins. With the Czechs absent next year, many will also be wondering whether the national squad will be able to rebound any time in the near future. One question is whether Tomáš Rosický, one of the Czech squad’s few true stars but whose career has been dimmed by repeated injury, will stay on or call it quits. Even should he remain, Czech dailies have remarked, there’s only so much the talented captain can do “by himself”. At the moment, it appears there are nothing but tough times ahead for the national team.