by Christopher Shepard
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For only the first time since the Cold War ended, the Czechs will play for the FIFA World Cup finals under their country's new name, Czech Republic. As Czechoslovakia, this team had qualified for World Cup eight times and reached the Finals in 1934, losing to Italy in extra time, and in 1962. However, it has been more than 16 years since the Czechs last qualified for the World Cup tournament.
In 1962 the Czechs were grouped with Brazil, Mexico and Spain. Behind the incredible play of talented midfielder Josef Masopust, the Czechs managed a draw against Brazil and qualified for Round 2 in second place. In the quarterfinals they beat Hungary and Yugoslavia and ultimately succumbed to a powerful Brazilian squad in the final.
The Czech Republic's road to Germany was tough as they finished second to the Netherlands in their qualifying group that included Romania and Norway. The Czech Republic was forced to play a tiebreaker with Norway to earn second place. The resulting No. 2 spot in qualifying was somewhat of a surprising result for a team ranked second in the world and a team that had the added bonus of Pavel Nedved coming out of retirement to help the Czechs qualify.
Before the World Cup qualifiers, the Czechs' qualification was seen as a foregone conclusion due to their success at the UEFA Euro 2004 in Portugal. While the favored Czech's lost their semifinals match to eventual winners Greece, fans who follow UEFA commented how well the Czech Republic played in the tournament. In fact, the Czechs did not lose a point in the initial group round which included two come-from-behind wins against Germany and Netherlands.
In qualifying for FIFA World Cup 2006, the Czech Republic was put in Group E with their first match a tune-up against the United States, while Ghana and Italy are the other two teams. Italy is most likely to give the Czechs the most difficulty from all the teams in Group E.
In their friendly against Turkey, Manager Karel Bruckner's squad led 2-0 after one hour of play on scores by Karel Poborsky and Jiri Stajner. A seemingly easy victory for the Czechs ended in a tie as Turkey rallied for two goals in the last minutes of regulation and extra time. The bright spot in their tie with Turkey, which just missed qualifying, was how Czech Republic controlled the ball and possession with a few of its starters not in uniform for the game.
Czech Republic World Cup 2006 Odds: CANBET has Czech Republic listed to win the 2006 World Cup at 25/1 odds but as June approaches the odds are likely to tighten.
Strengths: The ability to score at will is quickly becoming a trademark for the Czech Republic. In the European qualifiers no team scored more goals than the Czechs and no team boasts a deeper lineup with talent like Paul Nedved, Jan Koller, Karel Poborsky, Milan Baros, Petr Cech and Rosicky. Then there is dominating midfielder Tomas Galasek and Tomas "the dumpling" Rosicky, who scored six goals in Czech Republic's Strasse to Germany. Defensively, the Czech's have the Czech Footballer of the Year in goalkeeper Cech, who plays for Chelsea. Not only did Cech lead Chelsea to their first football title in 50 years, but he set the record with minutes played without a goal at 1,025 minutes.
Weaknesses: If the Czech Republic has a weakness that the teams in Group E should exploit, it lies with their defense. As witnessed by their friendly against Turkey, mental lapses and carelessness cost them a goal and indeed allowed Turkey 2 goals within four minutes -- not the way to end a friendly leading up to the World Cup. The Czech's struggle for consistency is something that could come back and haunt them if they are not careful. Before they lost in their semi-finals at Euro 2004 they looked unbeatable.
Czech Republic World Cup 2006 Outlook: Even with eight World Cup appearances and runner-up honors twice, Czech teams have reveled in being the underdogs. This year the Czechs bring depth, talent and experience to World Cup tournament. Look for Czech Republic to build on its success at Euro 2004 and learn from its loss to Greece. Czech fans believe that with this year's edition Bruckner has suited up the best football generation ever. It is hard to overlook the fact that the No. 2 team in the FIFA world rankings has enormous expectations.
The question is, will the Czechs rise to the occasion? Thie team has the talent to win Group E, but it will be far from easy and if the Czechs allow USA or Ghana to win in one of their first two games, they could be in real trouble needing a win against Italy to advance. The Czechs have the talent and ability to go deep and perhaps win their first World Cup this year if they reach their lofty expectations.
Czech Republic World Cup 2006 First Round Match Schedule (all times local):
Mon 12 June 18:00 Group E3 USA vs. Group E4 Czech Republic at Gelsenkirchen
Sat 17 June 18:00 Group E4 Czech Republic vs. Group E2 Ghana at Cologne
Thu 22 June 16:00 Group E4 Czech Republic vs. Group E1 Italy at Hamburg
Updated Czech Republic World Cup 2006 News: