The Czech Republic, if you include the triumph of unified Czechoslovakia in 1976, are one of only eight nations to play in a UEFA European Championship final more than once.
Since becoming the independent Czech Republic they have qualified for the summer finals six times before making it seven as Group A runners-up this time around. On the second, fourth and sixth occasions they bowed out after the group stage, but in the odd-numbered campaigns they reached a quarter-final, a semi-final and, at Euro 96, a final.
That ability to grow into a tournament if they can avoid, or overcome, a poor start may again be a theme of their EURO 2020 campaign after their recent Nations League success. Some of the names of the Czech Republic squad are well-known from domestic football, but are those players as key to their country’s performances as they are for their clubs?
In partnership with UEFA, we continue our series of EURO 2020 articles by examining the Czech Republic in detail to see if any of their players can compete for a place in your Fantasy teams.
ROAD TO QUALIFICATION
Group A got off to a disastrous start for the Czechs as England put five past them at Wembley without reply in their opening fixture. Three months later they made four changes to the starting line-up, including bringing in goalkeeper Tomas Vaclik (€5.0m), for a 2-1 home win over Bulgaria. Montenegro were then beaten 3-0 both home and away, but in-between there was another stumble as they let slip an early lead to go down 2-1 in Kosovo.
Revenge for their two group defeats on the road was gained in the autumn of 2019 with 2-1 home wins over both England and Kosovo, but a comfortable qualification in second place behind England ended on another downbeat note with a 1-0 away defeat to a Bulgarian team who hadn’t won any of their seven other qualifying ties.
CZECH REPUBLIC’S EURO 2020 QUALIFICATION GROUP RECORD
|Played||Won||Drawn||Lost||Goals for||Goals against||Clean sheets|
On the attack, the Czech Republic whirl forward like one of those very elaborate basketball team trick shots you see on social media. The only surprise is that the eventual scorer isn’t somersaulting onto the final pass via a springboard camouflaged under the pitch surface.
The big advantage they have is that their opposition don’t know who’s going to shoot. And probably neither do the Czechs themselves. Even late in games that are clearly a foregone conclusion seven of them will turn up around the edge of their opponent’s box reeling off one-twos, interchanges and a signature chest pass before suddenly the goalkeeper is picking the ball out of the net (for either the fourth or the first time).
For the casual viewer, this is very compelling, but for Fantasy managers it’s a recipe for high anxiety. This is reflected in the Czechs’ individual statistics during EURO 2020 qualifying where dynamic first-choice striker Patrik Schick (€8.0m) bagged four of their first six scores (including a penalty) but the nine others were shared between eight different team-mates and an own goal.
It was a similar story with assists where Jakub Jankto (€6.0m) provided three in two consecutive games and the remaining eight were shared between six players.
CZECH REPUBLIC’S MATCHES FROM 2020 and 2021
|Played||Won||Drawn||Lost||Goals for||Goals against||Clean sheets|
The Czech Republic seem very keen that Fantasy managers interested in their chances shouldn’t need to do any of that fiddly averaging out or adjusting for numbers of matches played. Their basic record last year (over six Nations League matches and two friendlies) was exactly the same as in qualifying the year before (played eight, won five, drawn none, lost three). They even managed to get exactly two clean sheets again, but couldn’t quite repeat the numbers of goals.
If you doubt their devotion to consistency they go even further. The Czech Republic’s 1-1 World Cup Qualifying result at home to Belgium on March 27th 2021 was their first draw since another 1-1 in another World Cup qualifier, away to Norway on June 10th 2017, 36 games and almost four years ago.
Given that they seem absolutely determined to leave observers in no doubt as to who they are it is genuinely puzzling that so many seem to have them as favourites to beat Scotland in Match Day 1.
The Czechs have lost four of their six opening European Championship finals matches since they became an independent nation, lost to Scotland themselves twice in the Nations League last autumn (1-2 and 1-0), lost 1-0 to Wales in a World Cup qualifier a few weeks ago, lost to Northern Ireland in a friendly in 2019 and were dismissed 5-0 by England in the opening match of the EURO 2020 qualifiers (though they did manage that 2-1 victory in the return).
Despite twice losing to the Scots, the Czech Republic ended their Nations League campaign winning that group and being promoted to UEFA’s top tier in the process thanks to four wins over Israel and Slovakia.
World Cup qualifying this year opened with a 6-2 win in Estonia followed by a battling 1-1 draw against a Belgian squad fancied by some to go far at EURO 2020.
However, Schick was sent off early in Cardiff for shoving a Welsh player in the face off the ball and, despite having a lot of the ball nevertheless, the Czechs were undone by a late, unmarked Dan James (€6.5m) header from a pinpoint Gareth Bale (€9.5m) cross.
- Most starts: Ondrej Celustka, Tomas Soucek, Jakub Jankto (all 8), Alex Kral (7), Vladimir Darida, Patrik Schick, Tomas Vaclik, Lukas Masopust (all 6)
- Most goals: Patrik Schick (4), Jakub Jankto, Tomas Soucek, Lukas Masopust, Vladimir Darida, Ondrej Celustka, Alex Kral, Jakub Brabec, Zdenek Ondrasek, Own Goal (all 1)
- Most assists: Jakub Jankto (3), Alex Kral, Lukas Masopust (both 2), Patrik Schick, Ondrej Celustka, Pavel Kaderabek, Marek Suchy (all 1)
- Goals scored: 13
- Goals conceded: 11
- Clean sheets: 2
THE KEY TARGETS
Since playing an ever-present but low-key role in EURO 2020 qualification, midfielder Tomas Soucek (€6.5m) has arrived emphatically on the scene for both his country and his new club, West Ham United. Premier League watchers will recognise his style of play on the international stage and his ‘perfect’ left-foot, right-foot, levitating header hat-trick against Estonia in the spring clearly demonstrated how dangerous a threat he can now be at this level.
That said, apart from that heady fixture the Czechs have carried on with sharing the goals around in typically close and hard-fought games when facing opposition of equivalent, or greater, strength, making it hard to identify obvious targets for EURO 2020 Fantasy consideration.
One player who does look to offer some consistency is Sampdoria’s left-sided attacking midfielder Jankto. He provided the assist for the goal in his nation’s very creditable 1-1 draw with Belgium last March and added another along with the sixth and final strike in the 56th minute of the rout of Estonia.
Target man Schick scored the opener and provided two assists in that game and he, along with Soucek, seem the most likely players to get more than one attacking return in any given game, though a group schedule featuring Scotland, Croatia and England in Glasgow and London could keep goals at a premium for a side that has struggled against teams in their own back yards, especially in Britain.
Schick has both won and scored a penalty for his country and seems likely to be their primary taker, but the two most recent successes from the spot have come from midfielders Vladimir Darida (€7.5m) and Borek Dockal (who hasn’t made the final 26-man squad) in 2020 games where Schick was out injured.
THE LONG SHOTS
Vladimir Coufal (€5.0m) has become almost as celebrated a Fantasy Premier League at West Ham as his midfield countryman, but on the international stage he has had to take his turn on the assisting roulette wheel with the rest of the side. He looks likely to start, but faces some pressure at his position from previous incumbent Pavel Kaderabak (€5.0m) who provided the assist for Soucek’s hat-trick goal in a match where Coufal was unavailable.
On the whole, we would suggest avoiding Czech defenders or the goalkeeper for Fantasy purposes. Their record against significant opposition suggests that they usually concede and they even let Estonia have the first and last words on an otherwise comfortable night.
Although we’ve highlighted the lack of individual stand-out performers from the Fantasy perspective, it’s worth emphasising that this very much fits in with the Czech footballing philosophy of the paramount importance of the team. Few outside the country could name any of the side that lifted the trophy in 1976 except Antonin Panenka who won a place in football folklore with his breathtaking penalty. Even the celebrated Pavel Nedved was just another reliable performer doing his job for the greater overall cause as the Republic fought their way to the final of Euro 96 only to lose in extra-time. They lost the first match in that tournament, too. If they can get a bit of traction in their first couple of games here they could become very difficult to send home.
FanTeam Price Corner
Every single Czech Republic asset comes in priced at €5.0m or below in FanTeam this summer.
Soucek and Coufal are both among the upper end of that bracket while eight of their number are available for €4.0m.
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