Last week was special for Libor Kozák. Not only did he score his first hat-trick for S.S. Lazio as the Italian club comfortably advanced to the UEFA Europa League quarter-finals at the expense of VfB Stuttgart; the 23-year-old was also called into the Czech Republic squad for their forthcoming FIFA World Cup qualifiers.
"It was very good news and was a bonus to go with the [3-1 round of 16 second leg] win and my three goals," said Kozák of the phone call he received from coach Michal Bílek informing him he had been selected for the World Cup qualifying Group B matches against Denmark and Armenia. "The only instruction from the coach was that I should bring my scoring form from the Europa League to Prague. I will do best to fulfil that request."
Kozák's prowess in European competition – with eight goals in as many outings since the start of the group stage, he is the UEFA Europa League's leading marksman – is at odds with his domestic statistics. He has not scored in 13 Serie A appearances this season. "It might be a coincidence, but the Europa League suits me well," he said. "We have had a marvellous run with Lazio. It would be fantastic to play in the final, but there are still four difficult games ahead of us."
He also revealed that the UEFA Europa League was a hot topic of discussion among the Czech squad before their first training session. "The boys from [FC Viktoria] Plzeň told me about their matches with Fenerbahçe and about their excellent players, especially up front," said Kozák. Such information could prove valuable – Lazio were paired with the Turkish team in last Friday's draw.
For now, though, club matters can wait as Kozák focuses on adding to his solitary senior cap, earned as a substitute when the Czechs defeated Slovakia 3-0 in a November friendly. "It is every footballer's dream to play in the national team," he explained. "I am ready to persuade the coach in training that I deserve my chance. Of course, I would like a permanent place in the side.
"Competition in attack exists in every top team," continued the former SFC Opava player, who has Sergio Floccari, Miroslav Klose, Louis Saha and Mauro Zárate for striking company at the Stadio Olimpico. "Those in the form will play. It is the same situation at Lazio as in the Czech team, so it's nothing new for me."
Third in their section with five points from three games, Bílek's men host Denmark in Olomouc on Friday before journeying east to face fourth-placed Armenia on 26 March. These are fixtures which Kozák believes could signal a "turning point" in a group headed by Italy and then Bulgaria. "Both matches are equally important for us and we need six points," he said. "A win against Denmark would take us away from them. We have a good team, we have had a run of a good form and I believe we can get what we want."
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