Czech Republic coach Michal Bílek said his squad's experience of playing with no margin for error in qualifying lies behind their success in reaching the quarter-finals of UEFA EURO 2012.
The Czechs' road towards Poland and Ukraine began with a stumble as they were tripped up 1-0 at home by Lithuania. In a group that featured reigning European and world champions Spain, that inauspicious start meant they could afford no further slip-ups if they were to book themselves a fifth straight EURO appearance. It was a situation eerily similar to that faced by Bílek's men after losing 4-1 to Russia in their opening Group A encounter in Wroclaw. The Czech boss believes the fact his team had already played without a safety net helped ensure yet another, seemingly unlikely, positive outcome.
"We are under pressure all the time. It may have been to our advantage that Poland did not play in qualifying, so they had not experienced such pressure as often as we did," said Bílek, whose side only clinched a place in the group stage having emerged victorious from a tense two-legged play-off with Montenegro. "It is not easy. We are used to playing must-win games. We've always done well in critical situations."
That was certainly true of the Czechs' performance against the co-hosts on Saturday. With the Municipal Stadium Wroclaw awash with Polish white and red, Bílek's charges once more had their backs to the wall, particularly when their coach informed them at half-time that Greece had scored against Russia, meaning victory alone would allow them to advance.
"After the first game many fans lost faith in us, which only doubles our joy now. We deserved to qualify for our team spirit, we worked hard. We know there is no other way to succeed in such a tournament," said Bílek, who saw his players emerge unscathed from a fierce, passion-fuelled Polish start to grab a ticket to the last eight courtesy of Petr Jiráček's 72nd-minute goal. "I enjoyed the feeling after the final whistle when I saw how my players celebrated with our fans. It is a big success for Czech football, a great feeling of joy and satisfaction."
Those emotions will no doubt be repeated should the Czechs proceed to the semi-finals with a triumph in Warsaw on Thursday. For now, the Group A winners will remain in their Wroclaw base, only arriving in the Polish capital on the eve of the contest. Captain Tomáš Rosický will make the trip with his team-mates, though whether the Arsenal FC man will join them on the pitch is far from certain.
"We will have to take into consideration the possibility that he might not be able to play. But there are still a few days for him to recover, there is still a chance," acknowledged Bílek, who slotted FC Viktoria Plzeň's Daniel Kolář into Rosický's creative role against Poland. "All my players feel there is a great chance to achieve something phenomenal. If we succeed in the next game, then we will get a medal. The motivation throughout the team is tremendous."
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