This article is part of the Guardian’s Euro 2016 Experts’ Network, a cooperation between some of the best media organisations from the countries who have qualified for France. theguardian.com is running previews from three countries each day in the run-up to the tournament kicking off on 10 June.
The outstanding characteristic that Pavel Vrba has brought to the national team from his successful years at the helm of Viktoria Plzen is organisation. In terms of individual quality, neither Viktoria nor the Czech Republic can match sides such as Atlético Madrid, Napoli or Holland, yet Vrba’s men were able to beat them.
The head coach, a former central defender, loves to attack and plays 4-2-3-1, with creativity in the middle and speed on the flanks. He likes to turn wingers or attacking midfielders into full-backs (or pick players converted by previous coaches) and to use their speed and attacking instinct. That is the case with Pavel Kaderabek or Theodor Gebre Selassie on the right side and with David Limbersky or Daniel Pudil on the left.
Lately, he has picked wingers more inclined to come into the middle – players such as Jiri Skalak, Borek Dockal or Josef Sural who like to leave the flanks and get into shooting positions, providing space for the men behind them to push forward.
The team are very well organised and can press high up the pitch or defend in a block. With Spain, Croatia and Turkey in the group, the Czech Republic are much more likely to use the second approach – another reason being a lack of speed in central defence, which means that when the team press, the centre-halves do not push forward as they ideally would, leaving a dangerous gap between them and midfield.
The Czech Republic are strong at set pieces. There are several players who can turn a dead ball into a very lively one and a bunch of good headers, too. Vrba likes to come up with innovative set plays and one of his assistants, Karel Bruckner, is a master of the art.
Petr Cech is a key player, his experience invaluable. With a Premier League Golden Glove award in his hand for the division’s most clean sheets in 2015-16, he heads to France with confidence high and in a good form.
Another vital component of the team is Tomas Rosicky. No one can match his creativity, though he has struggled with injuries and the team have had to learn to cope without him. The captain played half of the 10 qualifiers (W3 D1 L1) and the team did not collapse in his absence (W4 D0 L1).
Without Rosicky, the Czech Republic struggle to open up teams who defend deep – witness the 1-0 defeat by Scotland in a friendly in March – but they will not meet such opponents in the group stage at the Euros.
So, what can one expect from them? Against Spain and Croatia – teams who prefer to keep the ball – they are likely to sit deep and use speed on the flanks for counterattacks. In their final group game, against Turkey, when they may be battling to qualify for the last 16, they will be much more proactive. Getting beyond the group stage is certainly not out of reach.
Probable Starting Line-up: Cech, Kaderabek, Sivok, Kadlec, Limbersky, Darida, Plasil, Dockal, Rosicky, Krejci, Necid