With the hosts' preparations concluding with Tuesday's win over Portugal, Ondřej Zlámal gauges the Czech Republic's UEFA European Under-21 Championship chances.
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With summer hosts the Czech Republic seeing off fellow finalists Portugal 1-0 on Tuesday in their last warm-up game before the tournament opener against Denmark on 17 June, UEFA.com runs the rule over Jakub Dovalil's men and assesses their chances.
Preparations hotting up
Just as the country finalises the logistics for the forthcoming UEFA European Under-21 Championship, so Dovalil's side underwent their final checks this week. Nothing conclusive can be drawn from the two Prague friendlies – a 1-0 loss to England on Friday, followed by Tuesday's 1-0 win against Portugal – but things are going in the right direction for a team arguably hindered by a lack of competitive football. Dovalil's to-do list will have more ticks on it after these matches.
"Milan Baroš has spoken to me about how he won the trophy in 2002," said defender Jan Baránek. "He told me how much it helped his career." Career advancement is one thing, yet there will be a more audible motivation on offer in the form of big home crowds this June. It will be up to Dovalil to convert fan expectations into positive results, though the victory over Portugal, if rather lucky, may help as a starting point. "Everybody wants to be in the squad, we realise it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play such a big tournament at home," added Jakub Brabec.
A campaign built on defence
While against England the captain's armband was taken by Tomáš Kalas, fellow centre-back Brabec wore it against the Potuguese. These two will provide the bedrock for the Czech challenge, and Dovalil seems to have plenty of options to supplement the pair. Baránek and Patrizio Stronati are other strong candidates while the coach has no doubts about quality of his goalkeepers: Jiří Pavlenka, Tomáš Koubek and Michal Reichl.
The Czech goals in recent games have come from set pieces and a penalty. "We are struggling with our counterattacking play, I wish we could score more from open play," Dovalil said on Tuesday night. "Some of our players are still young and need experience." The coach had just seen Tomáš Přikryl and Jaromír Zmrhal squander three good chances between them. "I believe we have saved our shooting boots for the finals." The most likely source of goals may be from midfield, where Robert Hrubý, Michal Trávník, David Houska and possibly Václav Kadlec – currently with the senior squad – have an eye for goal.
Still to strengthen
The supporters are yet to see the Czechs' strongest U21 lineup. The reason is clear. AC Sparta Praha regulars Pavel Kadeřábek, Ladislav Krejčí and Kadlec, plus Watford FC forward Matěj Vydra, have earned permanent places in Pavel Vrba's senior team. The good news for Dovalil is that they have all repeatedly expressed a desire to wear the U21 shirt on home soil this summer. Reports so far suggest their wish will be granted.
It gets serious
The Portugal match ended a two-year period in which the Czechs have not played a single competitive fixture. On the plus side this has allowed the coach to try out a large number of players without the pressure of results, yet a winning spirit has been numbed in the process. However, with a victory song coming out of the dressing room after Tuesday's triumph, hopefully the players have been reminded how to get over the line. "We struggled to remember the lyrics," match winner Jiří Skalák said at Stadion Eden. "But we enjoyed it and want to repeat that as often as possible." Dovalil knows what will count. "Our work will be evaluated after the championship. I may be sorry about the one-goal defeat by England, but let's wait for the tournament itself."