It was billed as a preparatory game for the big one against world and European champions Spain in just over a month, but this was the sort of preparation that the Czech football team could have done without. They went down 2:4 in a friendly against Croatia with the home side putting a record tally of goals into the Czech net.
Football managers like to find the positives even in defeat, but the Czech performance against a skillful and spirited Croatian team left Czech coach Michal Bílek clutching at straws. To their credit, the team came back after conceding two early goals to end the first half tied at 2:2. But it was an incompetent defensive display in the second half that allowed the Croats to net another two goals without reply.
The Czech team had never previously conceded four goals in a game since 1993, with the last such weak defensive display dating back to April 1990 in the guise of the former Czechoslovakia. Wednesday night’s second half was more or less summed up by the last Croat goal when goalkeeper Petr Čech strayed out of his area, passed to defender Jan Polák who gave the ball away for Iličevič to curl the ball into an empty net. It was truely a howler.
This is what manager Bílek had to say after the game. “Of course it was bad that we let in four goals. We made a lot of mistakes in defence. Some of the players were in the training phase and were not playing as they should have been. In a month and a half it will certainly be a lot better.”
Hope perhaps takes the field when judgement is still on the substitute’s bench. On March 25 the Czechs travel to Spain for the first of two matches against the world cup winners in the qualifying group of the 2012 European Championships. Spain are currently undefeated in their campaign and lead the table with nine points. The Czechs are in second place with six points after some patchy form including defeat against Lithuania. The Baltic state and Scotland are close on Czech heels with four points and both have to play Bílek’s eleven at home.
Spain on Wednesday night put a recent series of defeats in friendlies behind them with a last gasp 1:0 win against Colombia. One previous friendly had seen the Spanish going down 0:4 against Portugal. But Spain’s performances in friendlies and the real thing are a Jeckyll and Hyde phenomenon according to recent form.
Only the group winners and the best placed second placed team in all groups go through automatically to the finals being hosted by Poland and Ukraine. The other group runners up will fight it out with each other in two leg ties.
One current calculation based on recent performances gives the Czechs a less than 3.0 percent chance of topping their group but an almost 80 percent chance of clinching the second spot. But that spot does not look like being an automatic ticket to the finals.
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