National football squad qualifies for Euro 2012

Petr Jiráček (a la derecha), foto: ČTK

The Czech Republic’s national football team has secured a berth at Euro 2012 defeating Montenegro 1:0 on Tuesday in their second-leg matchup in Podgorica. It will be the fifth straight appearance by the Czech Republic in the European Championships.

Petr Jiráček (right), photo: CTK
Qualification for Euro 2012 was a long, often difficult and frustrating road with the Czech team, swamped by problems and with little steam, under threat they might miss next summer’s championship in Poland and Ukraine. But it was a different, invigorated Czech squad that succeeded in the final qualification matches and playoff games against Montenegro for one of the competition’s final spots. In the first leg last Friday, the Czechs outclassed Montenegro, scoring twice; and on Tuesday they appeared well on their way, minimising their opponents’ opportunities in the first half.

The second was a little more dramatic.

Montenegro came close when Dejan Damjanovic rang a shot off the bar and Mirko Vucinic had two back-to-back shots but Czech goalie Petr Čech was the difference. Vucinic later also got an even better opportunity: a header up close that went wide but really should have gone in. Had any one of those goals gone in the game would certainly have heated up.

Petr Čech, photo: CTK
As it was, in the 81st minute Petr Jiráček put it out of reach for Montenegro, suddenly sealing the deal by faking a slow move and burst ingthrough the defenders to drill a cheeky shot past the goalkeeper. 1:0 was the score, giving the Czechs an unassailable 3:0 lead on aggregate. That was the way it would finish. Montenegro was a little unlucky, facing a great opponent especially in Petr Čech. Afterwards here’s what the star player – who played both playoff matches with a special protective mask – had to say about the Czech team’s success.

“The road to qualification was a long one and one that we began in the worst possible way: we had ten goal chances against Lithuania and still lost. Then, it’s true that the atmosphere with the fans over two years wasn’t great. Also, the new coach took over and introduced a change in players – a generational shift – and that too wasn’t easy. On the other hand, we wanted all the more to show the fans that we could do it, and in the end we did.”

Many will look back on qualification for Euro 2012 – which saw its share of poor or close matches were the Czechs were lucky to scrape by – with a sense of relief.

Photo: CTK
But in the end, the team has gelled, seen a renewed conviction to win and has succeeded. That can be attributed to several key factors, among them, first – and obvious on Tuesday night – the importance of playing the star goalie. He was doubtful for the playoff games with a broken nose but was brilliant. Second, the coach’s decision to bring in new players paid off, namely the uncovering of new talent especially in Plzeň’s Petr Jiráček, Václav Pilař, and Daniel Kolář.

Third, also of paramount importance, was the return to form of long-injured team captain Tomáš Rosický as a leader and key playmaker.

And fourth, the Czechs also had a little luck and that too didn’t hurt.