In charge since early 2014 after winning Czech league titles with Viktoria Plzen.
Still the main man despite age (34) and injuries. Won his 100th cap in June.
The Czechs made it through to the 2016 finals despite being drawn in a potentially difficult group with Holland, Turkey and Iceland. A team with few well-known stars, coach Pavel Vrba has moulded them into a side that is greater than
the sum of its parts.
Expectations were low at the start of the qualifying campaign but an injury-time winner in their opening game in Prague against Holland galvanised the side and they went on to win their opening four games, while their rivals struggled.
The Czechs have an impressive record at the European Championship, winning (as Czechoslovakia) in 1976, reaching the Final in 1996, the semi-finals in 2004 and the quarter-finals in 2012. They have qualified for every tournament since 1996.
With the exception of veterans Petr Cech and Tomas Rosicky, and highly rated wing-back Pavel Kaderabek, who joined Bundesliga club Hoffenheim last season, the bulk of the squad play in the domestic Czech league.
Left-back David Limbersky has faced calls for him to be dropped after he crashed his car while drunk, then acknowledged a goal for club side Viktoria Plzen with a drink-driving celebration.
While not quite “Total Football”, Vrba favours a patient build-up with players attacking from all areas, including the full-backs Kaderabek and Limbersky. Vrba has not been afraid to change his side as he searches for an alternative to the often-injured Rosicky.
Q&A with World Soccer Czech Republic correspondent Sam Beckwith
A two-part audio recording of this interview can be found below.
The Czechs were one of the first teams to qualify for Euro 2016. Was that a surpise?
It was a big surprise. Going into the qualifying campaign under new coach Pavel Vrba, the performances were less than mediocre and on paper the qualifying group looked very difficult. So there really wasn’t much expectation but it all turned around with the opening game against the Netherlands, which they won in stoppage time in Prague with a goal from Vaclav Pilar. That really galvanised the team, it lifted everyone’s spirits and they went on to have a 100 per cent in the opening four games. From then on, it was theirs to lose, which they came reasonably close to doing: they drew with Latvia and lost in Iceland. Then beating Kazakhstan recently was a big deal. They came from behind to win, really set them on their way. That pushed them towards qualification. It was surprisingly easy, I would almost say.
It was tough group, they obviously benefitted from the problems of the Dutch or is this an improved team from the 2014 World Cup qualfying campaign?
They’ve definitely benefitted from the problems of the Dutch. It would have been a three way battle between the Dutch, the Czechs and Iceland to get the two qualification spots. People were fairly aware that Turkey were relatively weak. Man for man, it’s odd, its not obviously a better squad than the one Michel Bilek had a couple of years ago. In some many ways it may be worse because it’s a more inexperienced group of players. But under the new coach the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. They’ve come together as a collective, as a unit and played very well together. It’s still a work in progress, they still make quite a few silly mistakes and I’m not sure how big an impact they will have on the tournament as a whole. But it’s been quite impressive to get there.
And an awful lot of the squad is based in the Czech Republic…
That’s correct. It seems to have been a concious decision by Vrba. In the past, it’s almost automatically been players who play abroad for big clubs have been the names that have gone into the squad. But there just aren’t as many of those players any more, there aren’t the high-profile players playing abroad so much. He kind of bet on this idea that the domestic league is not as weak as people here think it is. In a recent interview he pointed out that three Czech teams have made it into the group stages of the Europa League, suggesting that there is more strength in depth in the domestic league than people generally think. So it’s interesting, even here in the Czech media there’s a basic recognition that beyond Cech and Rosicky, there really aren’t any stars in the team. There’s no real big names. It’s a unit rather than a collection of individuals.
So Cech and Rosicky are still the big stars…
Yes, the casual fan would struggle to recognise a lot of the other names. Tomas Sivok, who plays for Besiktas, is a relatively big name. He’s certainly respected here, although he’s had injury problems and has not featured much in the qualification round. The other key personality is David Limbersky, who played very briefly for Spurs to no great effect. He also played for Modena and then came back to the Czech Republic.
He scored the goal against Latvia that helped secured qualification. Are there any other names that have come into the frame?
The other star coming through is Pavel Kaderabek, who played for Sparta and recently moved to Germany [to Hoffenheim]. He’s probably the big star of the next generation that’s coming through. He’s a right-sided wing-back.
He did very well in the Under-21 European Championship last summer…
That’s right. And then there’s the solid players who play for Sparta like David Lafata, who’s been the Czech League’s leading scorer for several seasons. Borek Dockal is also a very respected midfielder in the domestic league.
Are there any other players who might come through from the Under-21s, or is it a settled squad?
I think there’s still scope. It seems Pavel Vrba isn’t afraid to chop and change. In particular it’s been a challenge for the last few Czech coaches to find a formula for replacing Rosicky when he’s injured, which has been quite frequently. But he remains a key player for the Czechs, he’s still their outstanding outfield player. So there’s constant tinkering to find a system that can fill in with Rosicky’s absences. There’s a lot of young players who have been given chances in the midfield, nearly all from domestic teams. There’s quite a long list, actually, of players who have come through during this qualifying campaign.
And has Vrba been trying to fit players into a tactical system? Has Vrba got a style of play that he is comfortable with?
Very much so. It would be a mistake to call it total football but it’s certainly something in that direction. There’s an attempt at a very patient build-up, there are players attacking from all areas. It’s usually a five-man midfield and a one striker, but it’s quite fluid, a lot of attacking down the wings. It’s quite attractive football, he’s used the same approach at Viktoria Plzen where he was a very successful coach. It’s good football to watch.
How is Vrba seen by the Czech public? Does he have their backing?
Absolutely. He’s got quite a remarkable record. He was relatively unheralded when he arrived at Plzen btu he had already coached in Slovakia and won the league with Zilina. Then he turned a Plzen team of also-rans and never-has-beens into a domestic force. They won the league a couple of times before he took over the national team job. I saw a quote from Limbersky, who played for him at Plzen, that he has a karmic effect, that he brings success wherever he goes. People have been quite impressed, which is strange because he’s not a flashy manager, he’s not a Jose Mourinho. He doesn’t seem to be a strict disciplinarian, it’s all about the tactics and the man-management.
Are there any players that he’s concerned about, ones that aren’t playing at club level?
Cech was obviously a concern, he’s easily the number one choice goalkeeper. Even if he hadn’t been a regular starter at Chelsea, he still would have been the number one for the Czech Republic. But’s it’s obviously a big relief for him to be at Arsenal and to be playing regularly. That’s a big relief. Because the squad is domestic based, there’s really not that many players who don’t play regularly and who aren’t regular starters for their team. The one interesting figure is Petr Jiracek who played for Vrba at Plzen, very successfully, and was quite successful at Euro 2012. He’s had quite a long and difficult spell in Germany but has now moved back to the Czech league, he’s at Sparta. He’s a player who, if he starts to regain his old form, could feature. He’s an attacking midfielder who featured fairly prominently for the Czechs.
What the feeling about Tomas Kalas back home? He was mentioned recently as a possible solution to Chelsea’s defensive problems but has stayed out on loan.
The feeling is just that he doesn’t have enough experience. Even with Sibok out, they’ve gone with Marek Suchy, who plays for Basel in Switzerland and Vaclav Prochazka, who is domestic-based. That’s become the central defensive partnership. Kalas just isn’t playing enough, he doesn’t have experience. There’s a recognition that he has a lot of potential but he’s just not quite there yet, he’s not the finished product.
How do the Czech public feel about this team ahead of next summer’s tournament?
There was a general mood of pessimism going into the qualification round. But once a Czech teams gets to a final tournament, there is such a rich football heritage here that expectations do rise. Vrba has raised the expectations himself by qualifying and there’s a general feeling that if a Czech team doesn’t make it out of the group phase of tournament then it hasn’t really been a success, it’s will have been more of a failure. So even though expectations were quite low a year or two ago, the aim now will be to get beyond the group. Whether they can do that remains to be seen, I’m not entirely sure.
EURO QUALIFYING RESULTS (up to October 6, 2015)
Sep 9 – Prague
Czech Republic 2 (Dockal 22, Pilar 90+1)
Holland 1 (De Vrij 55)
HT: 1-0. Att: 17,946. Ref: Rocchi (Ita)
Czech Republic: Cech – Kaderabek, Prochazka,
M Kadlec, Limbersky, Dockal, Darida, Vacha (Kolar 81), Krejci (Pilar 66), Rosicky, Lafata (Vydra 72).
Holland: Cillessen – Janmaat, Veltman (Narsingh 39), De Vrij, Martins Indi, Blind, Wijnaldum, Sneijder, N De Jong, Depay, Van Persie.
Oct 10 – Istanbul
Turkey 1 (Umut 8)
Czech Republic 2 (Sivok 15, Dockal 58)
HT: 1-1. Att: 24,007. Ref: Eriksson (Swe)
Turkey: Tolga – Gokhan Gonul, Mehmet Topal, Semih, Caner, Ozan, Selcuk Inan (Ozyakup 79), Arda, Sahan (Muhammet 66), Umut, Gokhan Tore (Olcan 68).
Czech Republic: Cech – Kaderabek, Sivok,
M Kadlec, Limbersky, Darida, Vacha, Dockal (Plasil 90+2), Rosicky, Krejci (Pilar 68), Lafata (Vydra 84).
Oct 13 – Astana
Kazakhstan 2 (Logvinenko 84, 90+1)
Czech Republic 4 (Dockal 13, Lafata 44, Krejci 56, Necid 88)
HT: 0-2. Att: 13,752. Ref: Gestranius (Fin)
Kazakhstan: Sidelnikov – Miroshnichenko (Beisebekov 83), Vorotnikov, Abdulin, Logvinenko, Shomko, Tagybergen, Karpovich (Konysbaev 58), Islamkhan, Nusserbayev, Khizhnichenko (Nurgaliyev 70).
Czech Republic: Cech – Kaderabek, Sivok (Prochazka 81), M Kadlec, Limbersky, Dockal, Vacha, Darida, Krejci (Pilar 69), Kolar, Lafata (Necid 79).
Nov 16 – Plzen
Czech Republic 2 (Kaderabek 45+1,
Halldorsson og 61)
Iceland 1 (R Sigurdsson 9)
HT: 1-1. Att: 11,354. Ref: Stark (Ger)
Czech Republic: Cech – Kaderabek, Sivok,
M Kadlec, Pudil, Dockal, Plasil, Darida, Krejci (Pilar 65), Rosicky (Prochazka 90+2), Lafata (Necid 82).
Iceland: Halldorsson – E Bjarnason (B Saevarsson 62), R Sigurdsson, Arnason, A Skulason, Hallfredsson (R Gislason 62), G Sigurdsson, A Gunnarsson, B Bjarnason (J Gudmundsson 77), Bodvarsson, Sigthorsson.
Mar 28 – Prague
Czech Republic 1 (Pilar 90)
Latvia 1 (A Visnakovs 30)
HT: 0-1. Att: 13,722. Ref: Estrada (Spa)
Czech Republic: Cech – Gebre Selassie, Prochazka, M Kadlec, Limbersky, Darida, Plasil (Pilar 46), Dockal, Rosicky, Krejci (Necid 57), Lafata (V Kadlec 81).
Latvia: Vanins – Freimanis, Dubra, Gorkss, Maksimenko, Rakels, Tarasovs, Zjuzins (Zigajevs 87), Laizans (Ikaunieks 66), A Visnakovs (Fertovs 82), Sabala.
June 12 – Reykjavik
Iceland 2 (A Gunnarsson 60, Sigthorsson 76)
Czech Republic 1 (Dockal 55)
HT: 0-0. Att: 9,767. Ref: Collum (Sco)
Iceland: Halldorsson – B Saevarsson, Arnason,
R Sigurdsson, A Skulason, B Bjarnason,
A Gunnarsson, Hallfredsson (Bodvarsson 63),
J Gudmundson, G Sigurdsson, Sigthorsson
(R Gislason 90+3).
Czech Republic: Cech – Kaderabek, Sivok, Prochazka, Limbersky, Dockal (Darida 84), Vacha (Skoda 79), Plasil, Pilar (Krejci 67), Necid, Rosicky.
Sep 3 – Plzen
Czech Republic 2 (Skoda 74, 86)
Kazakhstan 1 (Logvinenko 21)
HT: 0-1. Att: 10,572. Ref: Strombergsson (Swe)
Czech Republic: Cech – Kaderabek, Suchy, Prochazka, Limbersky, Pavelka, Darida
(Sural 68), Dockal, Skalak (Skoda 46), Krejci (Kopic 84), Lafata.
Kazakhstan: Pokatilov – Gurman, Maliy, Logvinenko, Kuat, Islamkhan (Suyumbayev 78), Smakov, Shomko, Dzholchiyev, Nuserbayev (Khizhnichenko 72), Konysbayev (Kukeyev 88).
Sep 6 – Riga
Latvia 1 (Zjuzins 73)
Czech Republic 2 (Limbersky 13, Darida 25)
HT: 0-2. Att: 7,913. Ref: Aytekin (Ger)
Latvia: Vanins – Freimanis (Gabovs 33), Gorkss, Dubra, Maksimenko, Kamess (A Visnakovs 29), Fertovs, Tarasovs, Zjuzins, Rakels, Karasausks (Cauna 66).
Czech Republic: Cech – Kaderabek, Suchy, Prochazka, Limbersky, Dockal (Gebre Selassie 90), Darida, Pavelka, Sural (Vanek 77), Skoda, Kolar (Krejci 54).