A resurgent Tomas Rosicky and a decent run of results have boosted the Czech Republic heading into Euro 2012, but they need to sharpen up in attack to survive the opening round.
The Czechs lack firepower up front, but will fancy their chances in a relatively weak group if captain Rosicky, who shone for Arsenal in the Premier League run-in after a lengthy battle with injuries, stays fit.
Team officials breathed a sigh of relief when the Euro 2004 semi-finalists were drawn in a group that included co-hosts Poland, Greece and Russia, thereby avoiding traditional powerhouses such as Spain, Italy, Germany and the Netherlands.
Reaching the last eight, however, will require Galatasaray striker Milan Baros to rediscover the scoring touch that made him the Golden Boot winner at the 2004 Euro finals.
The former Liverpool and Aston Villa man has only found the net three times for the national team in the past two years, but Czech coach Michal Bilek lacks proven options beyond the pacy striker, who at his best has the power to run through defenses.
“I can’t see we will be an offensive team, because we don’t have too many offensive players at the moment,” national team manager and former Liverpool midfielder Vladimir Smicer said.
“Every single goal will be important,” he added.
The Czechs won their last three competitive games after losing 2-0 at home to world and European champions Spain in a qualifier in October last year. Since then they have won, lost and drawn, without the injured Rosicky for the last two games.
The captain resumed training on Monday and is expected to be fit for their opening game in Group A against Russia, who kept a clean sheet in their final four Euro qualifiers and have just thrashed Italy 3-0 in a warm-up match.
The teams have met once in recent times, drawing 3-3 at Euro ’96, when the Czechs lost to Germany in the final at Wembley Stadium in London.
Poland are harder to gauge because the co-hosts qualified automatically for the tournament, but they usually fare well against the Czechs, having beaten their central-European neighbors in three of their four past meetings.
The Czech Republic will also need to find a way to score against Greece, something they have failed to do in their last three meetings.
However, the Czechs will have extra motivation against the country that knocked them out in the Euro 2004 semi-finals.
Creating chances starts with Rosicky, whose pinpoint passing and ability to run at defenders will make him a constant threat.
Emerging midfielders Petr Jiracek and Vaclav Pilar, who is about to join him at VfL Wolfsburg, both gained Champions League experience last season with Viktoria Pilzen and will need to repeat the strong performances they turned in during the Euro qualifiers.
Chelsea’s Petr Cech provides the Czechs with lot of experience in goal, while Bayer 04 Leverkusen’s Michal Kadlec will anchor a steady, if not spectacular, defense.
The Czechs beat Israel 2-1 and lost to Hungary by the same score in warmup matches for the tournament, where Czech coach Bilek hopes to repeat the successes of the 2004 team.
Czechoslovakia won the European Championship in 1976 and the Czechs last made a real impact on the international stage at Euro ’96.
This time they qualified for the finals after beating Montenegro in a playoff, having finished runners-up to Spain in the qualifying group.