Prague, Czech Republic – At the Euro 2004, the Czech Republic’s golden generation came within a hair’s breadth of only a second major tournament final since the country’s current iteration came into being in 1993. That team has not been matched since. czech premier league
They came from behind to win against both Germany and the Netherlands, boasted Juventus star Pavel Nedved, Borussia Dortmund’s title winning ‘little Mozart’ Tomas Rosicky and man-mountain Jan Koller. Indeed, Czechia’s footballing heritage has since deteriorated markedly: they have not qualified for a World Cup since 2006 and have won only 3 of their last 10 games in the Euros since their 2004 heroics.
But there are signs of a resurgence.
“Goal-bae” Matej Vydra
After almost being sold by Burnley in the final days of the January transfer window, Championship goal-bae Matej Vydra (to use football journalist James Horncastle’s parlance) has come alive, scoring twice in his last three league games including a gorgeous winner against Southampton and won February’s Premier League goal of the month.
Despite scoring prolifically in England’s second division, injuries, a lack of form and strong performances from forwards ahead of him have seen questions asked about Burnley’s £11 million man. Vydra is at the prime of his career and playing at a higher level than most of the Czech national team. Although he has scored a paltry 5 goals in 26 international appearances, there are signs that Matej may now be ready to take on the mantle of scoring goals for a country that not so long ago produced Milan Baros.
Vydra’s low scoring rate can also be attributed to issues in the Czech midfield, but these problems too may have a Premier League solution.
Hard-working Tomas Soucek
Tomas Soucek has gained a recent reputation as a reliable goalscorer from midfield in the Czech league, notching a formidable 30 goals over the past two seasons. At 6”4, he certainly has the physicality to compete in England’s top flight, but in his three West Ham appearances he seems to have adapted to a deeper role, operating on the right of Mark Noble in a compact midfield three in a recent game against Liverpool.
Nonetheless, Soucek shows promise. He was impressive against the European champions, working hard and putting in some strong tackles to disrupt the Liverpool midfield’s mesmeric intensity. Like Vydra, he has already played in 20 internationals and with his move to the Premier League, he may be ready to make the step up to lead this Czech team forward.
This is not to say that there aren’t other hugely talented Czech players who could make an impact. Patrick Schick has been impressive for RB Leipzig on loan, scoring 7 in 15 league games, and former Udinese midfielder Jakub Jankto has long been seen as a promising player.
But Schick, no longer the teen sensation he was when he broke through at Sampdoria, has not demonstrated consistent goalscoring in past three seasons. Jankto has played almost every game for Sampdoria this season, but has struggled in a side which languishes in 17th place in Serie A at the time of writing.
Euro “2021”: England and Croatia
At the Euro 2020 (postponed to 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic), the Czech side will come up against England, Croatia and a third team which will come through the play-off process. In many ways, it is a group that mirrors their 2004 opponents: Germany, Netherlands and Latvia. That year, the team, led by Baros, Rosicky, Koller and Nedved, went behind, but won, all three games.
At the next Euros, the team’s slim chances of qualifying from their group will require a similar story: the ability to suffer through the tough patches in games and big performances from their best players.
If they play to their strengths, Vydra the poacher and Soucek the towering midfield powerhouse could be the players to lead this Czech team to rocking some boats at Euro 2020.
By Avram Liebenau
Avram was a political risk analyst at a consultancy company in London and did a degree in Russian and History at UCL with a focus in Russian and Eastern European economic history. Check out his latest articles right here!