The Czech Republic only scraped through the UEFA European Under-17 Championship qualifying round in autumn, going through as one of the two best third-placed teams across the 13 groups having lost 6-1 to Turkey.
Once in the elite round, though, they beat Slovakia and Italy before a draw with Scotland took them into the finals, which begin on 3 May, for the second year running. Experienced coach Josef Csaplár spoke to UEFA.com about the changes made between the two rounds and why results are not everything at this level.
UEFA.com: Your side were not so convinving in the qualifying round, particularly after the 6-1 defeat by Turkey. What did you change in the elite round, where your side won a strong group ahead of Scotland, Italy and Slovakia?
Josef Csaplár: The style of play was the same, the attractive attacking approach with pressing all over the pitch. The players had more time to adjust to it and last but not least we took eight new players to Italy. The fears that Czech football lacks gifted players were unjustified.
UEFA.com: How did the players cope with the difficult position there as they had to come from behind after conceding early goals against Italy and Scotland?
Csaplár: Every game was more difficult than the previous one, but the players made it. They achieved it with attacking and enterprising play. We were the only side at the tournament who played with two forwards, and we scored more goals than our opponents. We deserved to progress and I was glad that the famous Italian coach Arrigo Sacchi, who is my coaching guru, had the same opinion, when he congratulated us.
UEFA.com: Do you realise that you can be the first Czech coach to lead a side to the FIFA U-17 World Cup as six out of eight participants will go to Mexico later this year?
Csaplár: That is a great motivation for players of course. But for me it is more important to develop them for senior football. To learn something is more important than coming first or second at this level. The good results and Mexico could be the bonus.
UEFA.com: How satisfied are you with the draw against Germany, Romania and the Netherlands?
Csaplár: At this level is hard to say who are the favourites, especially as we have only limited information about our opponents. We have played against the very strong Turkish side, but they are not here at all as well as Spain. It means that anything could happen, nobody has anything guaranteed.
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