Vrba again keeping Plzeň in European football’s spring phase “something special” in Czech game

Roman Hubník (left), photo: ČTK/Miroslav Chaloupka

Viktoria Plzeň can look forward to European football in the New Year after securing third spot in their Champions League group to earn a place in the Europa League. It is the fifth time coach Pavel Vrba has steered Plzeň to the spring phase of Europe’s second-tier competition – an impressive feat for a club of the West Bohemians’ stature.

Roman Hubník  (left),  photo: ČTK/Miroslav Chaloupka
Though they had never previously taken part in the competition, Viktoria Plzeň have now reached the Champions League group stage three times in seven seasons.

This time out their opponents were holders Real Madrid, semi-finalists Roma and CSKA Moscow. As the top two go through, Plzeň were realistically in a battle for third – which comes with a place in the round of 32 of the second-tier Europa League.

On the final matchday on Wednesday, the West Bohemians needed to at least equal CSKA’s result at Real.

Incredibly, the Russians were 2:0 up at half-time. Plzeň, meanwhile, were drawing 0:0 with Roma, so stood to come last. But they eventually came good to seal third spot with a 2:1 victory.

Roman Hubník is a Plzeň defender.

“I didn’t expect that Real could lose at home. The score was 3:0 in the end, which surprised me a lot. We were kind of healthily annoyed at half-time. We knew we needed to go for it, and I think we played more attacking football after the break. We were more determined to score and I think the second half was great from our perspective.”

Journalist Karel Häring ascribes a lot of the credit for Plzeň’s success to manager Pavel Vrba.

“I think it’s something extraordinary in Czech football. He has taken Viktoria Plzeň to the Europa League round of 32 for the fifth time.

Viktoria Plzeň - AS Roma,  Pavel Vrba  (left),  photo: ČTK/Michal Kamaryt
“That’s something unusual in this country. So for me it’s really something special.”

For very big clubs in big European leagues who are trying to win their own leagues, coming third in the Champions League group stage and getting into the Europa League can be seen as something almost negative. It’s seen as a distraction and not a top class competition. But what does it mean for a Czech club?

“I think Pavel Vrba was right when he said before the campaign that for Czech clubs when they are in the Champions League group stage the main target is finishing third and moving to the Europa League.

“Because they can’t compare with teams like Real Madrid and AS Roma, even though they defeated them yesterday – but we know Roma is in crisis.

“So I rate it as a big success when a Czech team finished third. And it was the third time that Viktoria Plzeň finished third in the Champions League group stage.”