Czech Republic – Euro 2012
What are the expectations for the team?
Modest, but not quite as low as the unimpressive qualification campaign might suggest. Tomas Rosicky is fit and in good form‚ an occurrence about as rare as a total eclipse in the run-up to a major tournament‚ and a crop of new players, mainly drawn from Viktoria Plzen's championship-winning side, have injected some new life into the team. Much is expected of midfielder Petr Jiracek. Given the relatively easy draw, getting out of the group is the minimum requirement.
Is the coach popular?
Not really. There were frequent calls for Michal Bilek to be sacked during the qualifying campaign but he has won some grudging respect now the Czechs have qualified and started to play some decent football. Bilek was an assistant to Ivan Hasek, who at one point was simultaneously coaching the national team and running the Czech football association. Bilek is a former Sparta Prague team-mate of Hasek's and it has been suggested that Bilek was given the job because they were friends‚ an impression that losses to the UAE and Azerbaijan in his first two games in charge did little to dispel.
Have any players appeared in TV commercials or other advertising?
Between his personal commitments and sponsorship duties with Chelsea and the national team, Petr Cech is an omnipresent sight on the streets and screens of the Czech Republic in the run-up to any big tournament. There is usually a mildly embarrassing T-Mobile commercial featuring various players.
Do any players have unusual hobbies or business interests?
Baumit Jablonec striker David Lafata, who recently smashed the Czech league scoring record, likes to hunt in his spare time. He is inevitably referred to as a "marksman" in the press and is often encouraged to wear an Austrian-style hunting hat in photoshoots.
Will there be any rehearsed goal celebrations?
The big question at the moment is whether there will be any goals. With Milan Baros playing as a lone striker, nothing is guaranteed. There will certainly be no repeat of the celebrations that followed the play-off win over Montenegro, when most of the squad were caught on camera joining in a chant of "Radek Drulak has no dick", about a pundit who criticised the team. The squad were later fined Kc2 million (£65,000).
What will the media coverage be like?
After a lot of haggling, state broadcaster Ceska Televize finally bought the rights. Their coverage is no-nonsense, no-frills stuff. They will show all 31 games on a free-to-air channel and, in Jaromir Bosak, they have the country's wittiest commentator. Based on previous coverage, expect the usual gang of "experti"‚ coaches, former Czech internationals and current domestic league stars‚ standing round an ugly, possibly "virtual" set. Antonin Panenka, whose chipped penalty won Euro 76 for Czechoslovakia, is guaranteed to feature.
Will there be many fans travelling to the finals ?
Wroclaw, where the team will play their group games, is not far away and large numbers of fans are expected to make the trip. The ticket allocations for all three games have sold out. Chanting at national team games tends towards the unimaginative‚ lots of "If you're not jumping, you're not Czech", "We want a goal" and "Fight, lads, fight"‚ but the official fan club is trying to liven things up this time around. Because central planning has worked so well here in the past, they have launched an initiative called "Vlajkonosi, povstante!" (Stand up, flagbearers!) that aims to bring together fans of rival clubs for ultra-style displays at the tournament. If Slavia Prague home games are anything to go by, expect Bart Simpson to feature heavily. Sam Beckwith
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