by Tom Lees - 16th February 2016
Pavel Vrba will be confident going into the tournament finals
With the 2016 European Championships now just a few months away, here at FanFormation, we will be taking a close look at each Nation competing and how they fare once the big event in France kicks off. As part of our pre-tournament preview, we will be going through each Country and highlighting three of the youngsters, on the fringes of selection, who will be hoping to make their Nations final squad.
Today our focus is on the Czech Republic, a nation with a strong record in the European Championships. Runners up in 1996, semi-finalists in 2004 and then quarter finalists in 2012, they will be looking to go far in this year’s tournament under the management of Pavel Vrba.
After qualifying for the European Championships from a strong group that contained the Netherlands and Turkey, the Czech Republic will travel to France full of confidence and convinced that they can go far in the competition.
A side without many star names, Petr Cech aside, they will rely on strong unity and the experienced heads of Jaroslav Plasil, David Limbersky and Tomás Rosicky (injury allowing). There are a talented young group of players breaking into the setup and this injection of energy, together with the experienced players could be vital for any success the Czech Republic have. Young goalkeeper Tomas Koubek is currently occupying the third slot in the squad and will hope to travel to the tournament to gain experience for the future. Hoffenheim right back Pavel Kaderábek has been playing regularly in the Bundesliga and impressed in his national career so far, he’ll be a guaranteed selection in defence.
On a more offensive note, young Sparta Prague winger Ladislav Krejcí has built up a healthy number of appearances for both club and country and will be looking to advertise his talents on the big stage. In the forward positions both Matej Vydra of Reading and Václav Kadlec of FC Midtjylland will be expected to feature in some capacity. Kadlec has recently moved to Denmark from Eintracht Frankfurt and the striker, who was once expected to be a Czech wonder kid, will be keen to get into goal scoring fashion for his new club as the tournament gets under way.
But who are the players on the cusp of selection, below I have pin pointed three names to watch over the coming weeks and months.
When he began his career Tomás Kalas was a talented young centre back, but during his early years in the professional game on loan at various clubs, Kalas has developed into a very promising right back that is able to cover centrally when required. One of a number of young stars on the books of Premier League side Chelsea, Kalas has yet to be given a real opportunity for the London club since his reported £5.2 million move from Sigma Olomouc in July 2010. Instead the defender has experienced loan moves firstly back to Sigma, then away at Vitesse (twice), a failed move to 1. FC Köln and then back to back loans to English Championship side Middlesbrough where he currently resides.
A young defender with a big future in the game, Kalas is in need of a permanent place to call home and his international career which began with his first senior cap in November 2012 has stagnated a little with only two further national appearances following. Kalas has been having a strong season for Middlesbrough though and will be hopeful of adding to his international experience, having versatility in defence will aide his cause for tournament selection and I feel it would be a bigger surprise if he doesn’t make it to France this Summer. A future leader for his country, Kalas will be keen to establish his future at club level at the end of the season, he should be a guaranteed selection for the Czech Republic and if he hasn’t a future at Stamford Bridge he will not want to risk any more delays to his career progress.
A product of the Sparta Prague youth system, young wide man Jirí Skalák will be extremely hopeful of making the trip to France this summer having made his international bow in September 2015, and representing the Czech Republic well at every age level. His game time at Sparta was limited, with his experience mainly coming from a series of loan moves to Ruzomberok, Slovácko, Zbrojovka Brno and then Mladá Boleslav. Skalák impressed during his spell at Mladá Boleslav and the loan move was made permanent in 2015, further impressive displays followed and at the beginning of 2016 a transfer to English Championship side Brighton was agreed for just over £1 million.
Now at Brighton, Skalák will be looking to help his new side in their push for promotion and good form in England will almost certainly guarantee his ticket to the European Championships. With a cultured right foot, Skalák is a set piece specialist and capable of scoring regularly from long range. He oozes confidence on the pitch and always looks to make an impact, his final pass could still use some work and as he’s not the quickest he’ll need to perfect his crossing ability in order to really step up the next level.
Skalák already has a handful of international appearances to his name and currently sits well in the Czech squad, his final selection ultimately depends on his performances for Brighton. The place is his to lose, and the impact the player could have in the tournament itself with his set pieces and striking power could mean the difference between winning and losing games.
Despite having nearly 100 league appearances to his name for Slavia Prague, and a regular performer for the Czech Republic Under 21 side, young Jaromir Zmrhal is yet to earn his first senior international call up. After breaking through from the Slavia youth setup, Zmrhal made his professional debut for the Prague club in August 2012 and has been a regular feature in the side ever since. A left sided midfielder, Zmrhal is also a very capable central midfield talent, but his pace and dribbling is more effective in the wider areas.
Tall and fast, with a powerful left foot strike, Zmrhal is able to cause opposition defences a number of problems. Whether it be dribbling at pace, picking out long destructive passes to his team mates or shooting hard from distance, the Czech youngster is building up a tasty reputation for himself in the Synot liga. He still has much to learn and can be very raw at times, choosing to shoot wildly or take his eye off the ball when pushing defenders back, but he is learning every game and the vast experience gained thus far for Slavia has been perfect for his progression. As stated earlier, Zmrhal is currently uncapped at senior international level, but he is knocking on the door for selection and will be expected to receive a call up for the warm up fixtures before the tournament. His ultimate tournament selection will depend on how he performs if given the chance, he will need to grab it with both hands. A future Czech Republic star for sure, and a player with many tournaments ahead of him, Jaromir Zmrhal will be desperate to impress over the coming months and get his international career under way.
OTHER PLAYERS OF NOTE
There are a number of other young Czechs who will remain hopeful of selection, centre backs Jakub Brabec and Jan Baranek have been playing regularly for Sparta Prague and Viktoria Plzen respectively. Both are part of the Czech Under 21 team and if any injuries hit the senior defensive setup, both players will be desperately awaiting their chance. Another Sparta Prague defender is Matej Hybs, and the left back like the centre backs above is an Under 21 regular with a strong domestic club season behind him.
In midfield, Michal Travnik is still very new to the Under 21 setup, but has put in some promising performances for club side FK Jablonec and is expected to be a big player for the Czechs in the future. A tournament too soon perhaps for the box to box midfielder, but he will be hopeful of a surprise phone call from Pavel Vrba this summer. Young wide man Martin Frydek has recently been part of the Czech senior squad, although remains uncapped thus far. A regular in the Under 21 setup and with some solid performances down the left for his club side Sparta Prague, Frydek will expect his first national cap very soon. His inclusion in the final selection ultimately depends on how he does perform if given this chance in the coming months. On the right hand side is VfB Stuttgart youngster Jan Kliment, a player with a fantastic scoring record for the Under 21’s. However, since his move to the Bundesliga in the summer of 2015, playing time has been slightly restricted, and despite having great potential it would be a surprise if Kliment was given the nod to go to France.
Perhaps the most exciting prospect in Czech football is Ajax winger Vaclav Cerny, the teenager has already performed well for the Under 21’s and as he gains more experience in Amsterdam it won’t be too long before he is fast tracked into the senior national team. A real talent to look out for, the European Championships will come around just too soon for him to expect inclusion. If the Czech Republic make it to the 2018 World Cup however, expect Cerny to be one of their star performers.
This bring us to the end of our look at the young hopefuls of the Czech Republic, how do you rate the chances of the three youngsters selected? Who do you think could make the final selection? Who are you looking forward to watching? Let us know in the comments section below.
The Czech Republic are drawn in Group D alongside holders Spain, Croatia and Turkey. They finished above the Turks in qualifying and will be looking to repeat that in the tournament finals. Spain will be big favourites to win the group and it’ll be the Spanish who present the first opponents to the Czech’s in Toulouse on the 13th June. The big battle could be as to who finish as group runners up, with Turkey, Croatia and the Czech Republic all confident of making it into the knock out stages.