It is proving a memorable week for Jiří Štajner and the 35-year-old hopes to top it off by stating his claim for a UEFA EURO 2012 place when the Czech Republic visit the Republic of Ireland on Wednesday.
On Saturday the midfielder's two goals gave FC Slovan Liberec a 2-0 victory over 1. FK Příbram which closed the gap on Czech First League leaders AC Sparta Praha to three points. Hours later national coach Michal Bílek called up Štajner to replace the injured Tomáš Rosický. It was an unexpected turn of events for a player whose career seemed over when he left Hannover 96 in summer 2010 to rejoin Slovan after eight years in Germany.
His Hannover move had followed a dream 2001/02 season when his 15 league goals, including 11 in the last 12 rounds, helped Liberec win the title and earned Štajner the scorers crown and an international debut. Now he is back in that form, or maybe even better, giving fans the sight of his bald presence outpacing younger opponents – including for his opening, solo goal against Příbram, which began with a run from his own half.
"I enjoy playing football," said Štajner, who has 11 goals from 17 top-flight outings this term, of his revival. "I have never had problems with stamina and I don't need any special treatment from the coach. I feel good among younger team-mates."
Bílek had previously resisted media clamour to pick Štajner, saying when he originally named his squad: "I know him well, he is a great personality with experience, but I don't need to try him. We have Tomáš Rosický and Daniel Kolář in attacking midfield now, but he could be with us at EURO." Now the coach has hinted that Štajner may start in Dublin, affording the player serious hope of going to his second major tournament after the 2006 FIFA World Cup.
"I am glad to be back in the squad and EURO is a great motivation for me," said the 36-times capped Štajner, before showing his well-known stoic side. "Nevertheless I know there is a long way to go and I am not getting carried away.
It's true that winning a championship with Liberec and playing at EURO would be the peak of my career," he added, relishing the chance to fill in for Rosický. "The central attacking midfield position just behind the forwards is my preferred role, definitely better than playing on the wings. And I will not be frustrated if I only help the team as a joker for a few minutes."
Bílek himself will be giving as many players as possible a go. "The atmosphere in the squad is great, the players are together as a team," he said. "It would be pointless to put ourselves under pressure due to a bad friendly result. There is a great difference between playing in the Czech league and playing internationals – I want to see how the younger players deal with more demanding situations."
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