Euro 2016 Spotlight:Czech Republic

When it comes to the Czech Republic, you could say that the stars have gone out. Once home to some of the bigger stars of the game, their national side no longer has their sheer quality. Gone is the era of Pavel Nedvěd, Vladimír Šmicer and Jan Koller. Long gone are Zdeněk Nehoda, Tomáš Skuhravý and Marián Masný.

They're not utterly without talent, of course — the likes of Petr Čech and Jaroslav Plašil are still wonderful players in their own right, and Tomáš Rosický is an excellent leader even if he struggles to replicate the form of his younger days — but the Czechs clearly lack the significant star power they once held. Yet for all that former quality, they struggled to actually get results with it. They've gotten past the quarterfinal round of the European Championships once since the turn of the millennium, when they lost in the final in 2004, and they have only qualified for the World Cup once since the dissolution of Czechoslovakia.

So with that star power lost, how could a team that already struggles to perform really expect to do at Euro 2016? Surely not well, right?

Well, maybe their odds are a bit better than you might think.

Despite that lack of premier talent, this is a different Czech squad and one worth a degree or two of optimism. The problem in the past was that while the Czechs always had star power at the top end of the squad, the supporting cast was too often on the lackluster side. They just weren't good enough to give the stars the help they needed to push the team to glory, and the results suffered for it.

This time, while the quality at the top of the roster isn't the same, the depth is much, much improved. There is no one glaring weakness like the Czechs used to regularly have — the roster is solidly built from top to bottom. From solid veterans like Michal Kadlec and Theodor Gebre Selassie to unheralded regulars like Bořek Dočkal and Tomáš Necid, this is a much better-constructed and competitive side than the Czechs have had in a long time.

There's also some solid younger talent as well, offering greater hope for the future. Ladislav Krejčí, Pavel Kadeřábek and Jiří Skalák are all promising players with plenty of room to grow and develop into their talents, and while they may not make a major impact in this tournament, the experience will be invaluable to them helping the Czech Republic find greater success in the future.

It's more than just the talent, though. The Czechs have grown tactically under Pavel Vrba, who took over in 2014 and, after significant tinkering, found a version of the 4-2-3-1 with the right roles and balance for the players he has to call on. Now his squad plays with balance and cohesion, making them tougher to break down and more likely to exploit mistakes they run into.

Still, you shouldn't expect the Czech Republic to be a major threat or power in this tournament despite them being a better team than they once were. Spain, Croatia and Turkey are all brutally difficult, if not clearly superior opponents, and the Czechs would have to do spectacularly well just to advance from the group stage. They'll still be a tough team to face themselves, though, and will be eager to cause whatever upset they can before they go down. And when they go down, you can guarantee that this Czech side will go down swinging.

Schedule & Results

Monday, Jun. 13
Friday, Jun. 17
Tuesday, Jun. 21