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Czech Republic Euro 2020 preview - prediction, fixtures, squad, star player

:Headline: Czech Republic Euro 2020 preview - prediction, fixtures, squad, star player:
Ahead of this summer's Euro 2020, Sports Mole previews the chances of 1996 runners-up Czech Republic.
Sports Mole

A new generation of Czech Republic players will be looking to create their own memories in this summer's delayed Euro 2020 tournament, 25 years on from the Central European nation's run to the European Championship final.

The Czechs finished runners-up to Germany the last time an international tournament was held in England, but hopes are not exactly high of a repeat a quarter of a century on.

Jaroslav Silhavy's men beat Group D opponents England in qualifying, though results have been rather mixed since they secured their place in the Euro finals some 19 months ago.

Ever-presents in the competition since that famous 1996 campaign, the aim for the Czech Republic will be to at the very least reach the knockout stages, which they failed to do in France last time around.

Here, Sports Mole provides an in-depth assessment of the Czech Republic's chances at the Euros.


GROUP

The Czech Republic are in a fairly tricky group that also contains Croatia, England and Scotland, complicated by the fact that the latter two sides will be boosted by home support.

Croatia's squad is ageing and they are not as strong as three years ago when reaching the World Cup final, but they will still be fancied to claim one of the top-two spots along with England.

That puts an awful lot of pressure on the Czech Republic's opening match of the tournament against Scotland in Glasgow, which may well prove to be an early shootout to determine which other team advances.

Four of the best third-placed finishers progress, so Silhavy will be targeting a place in the last 16 for his side before that first ball in Group D is kicked.

FIXTURES

June 14: Scotland vs. Czech Republic (2pm, Hampden Park, Glasgow)
June 18: Croatia vs. Czech Republic (5pm, Hampden Park, Glasgow)
June 22: Czech Republic vs. England (8pm, Wembley, London)


HOW THEY QUALIFIED

England are familiar opponents for the Czech Republic, as the two sides also met in qualifying. Indeed, the Czechs beat England 2-1 in Prague, inflicting a first qualifying defeat on England in a decade.

That was sandwiched by wins over Montenegro and Kosovo in a strong end to the campaign, with a 1-0 loss to Bulgaria in the final round of fixtures not enough to prevent the Czechs finishing second to the Three Lions.

As second seeds in Group A, Silhavy's charges were always expected to finish in that second automatic qualification spot, and so it proved with Kosovo not having quite enough in the tank as they finished third.

The Czech Republic scored 13 goals and conceded 11 in their eight games for a goal difference of plus two, which is the lowest of the 20 teams that progressed through to the finals.


RECENT FORM

The Czech Republic beat Albania 3-1 in their final pre-Euros friendly on Tuesday. Sokol Cikalleshi cancelled out Patrik Schick's opener with an unbelievable strike, but Lukas Masopust and Ondrej Celustka were on target in the second half for Silhavy's side.

That victory would have boosted morale on the back of a comprehensive 4-0 loss to Italy in the other of their June friendlies in Bologna.

The Czechs have played five games in 2021, winning the first of those 6-2 against Estonia in their opening World Cup qualifier, before holding Belgium to a 1-1 draw.

However, a late 1-0 loss to Wales leaves them with work to do if they are to qualify for the next World Cup.

In competitive fixtures, Silhavy's side have won five, lost three and drawn one of their nine such games since September 2020 when football resumed after the coronavirus hiatus.


SQUAD

Goalkeepers: Tomas Vaclik (Sevilla), Jiri Pavlenka (Werder Bremen), Ales Mandous (Olomouc)

Defenders: Vladimir Coufal (West Ham), Pavel Kaderabek (Hoffenheim), Ondrej Celustka (Sparta Praha), Tomas Kalas (Bristol City), David Zima (Slavia Praha), Jan Boril (Slavia Praha), Ales Mateju (Brescia), Jakub Brabec (Viktoria Plzen)

Midfielders: Lukas Masopust (Slavia Praha), Vladimir Darida (Hertha Berlin), Tomas Soucek (West Ham), Antonin Barak (Verona), Alex Kral (Spartak Moskva), Tomas Holes (Slavia Praha), Petr Sevcik (Slavia Praha), Jakub Jankto (Sampdoria), Adam Hlozek (Sparta Praha), Jakub Pesek (Liberec), Michal Sadilek (PSV)

Forwards: Patrik Schick (Leverkusen), Michael Krmencik (PAOK), Matej Vydra (Burnley), Tomas Pekhart (Legia)


STAR PLAYER - TOMAS SOUCEK

The Czechs have a number of familiar names in their squad, including West Ham United pair Tomas Soucek and Vladimir Coufal.

Both players impressed in their first full Premier League campaigns, and there is an argument to be had that Soucek was the best value for money signing in the English top flight last season.

The 26-year-old scored 10 goals from midfield to help the Hammers qualify for the Europa League, more than doubling his price tag in the process - not that United will even consider cashing in this summer.

Soucek has also performed well for his country and scored a hat-trick against Estonia in March's World Cup qualifiers, the type of goalscoring threat from deep that the Czech Republic will need if they are to go far in this year's Euros.


MANAGER - JAROSLAV SILHAVY

Silhavy made a record 465 appearances in the Czech First League during his playing days, a record that still stands more than two decades on from his retirement.

Since moving into coaching in 2005, the 59-year-old has managed eight clubs and spent eight years as assistant manager of his national side.

Former defender Silhavy was appointed as senior manager in 2018 and has put his spin on the team, who are known for their discipline and high pressing.

With experience of winning titles at Slovan Liberec and then Slavia Prague, the Plzen native will be looking to add to his coaching CV by advancing beyond the group stage this summer.


EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIP RECORD

Best finish: Runners-up (1996)

The Czech Republic have qualified for the European Championship finals in all six attempts since becoming an independent nation.

Their first appearance in the competition was in 1996 when memorably reaching the final, where they lost 2-1 to Germany after extra time.

That team of Patrik Berger, Pavel Nedved and Karel Poborsky & co are still remembered fondly, but the Czechs are overdue another tournament run.

They also reached the semi-finals in 2004, and it was a quarter-final exit in 2012, but they have exited the tournament at the group phase in three of their last five participations.


PREDICTION

Finishing above England and Croatia will be a massive ask for the Czech Republic, but we can see them holding off Scotland for third place.

That may be enough for a place in the last 16, but their most likely opponent in the first knockout round is Spain.

Bigger shocks have happened, of course, but we cannot see them getting the better of La Roja, meaning no repeat of their magical runs in 1996 and 2004.

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