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World Soccer: Group A is widely seen as the tournament’s weakest. Do you share that view? 

Michal Bilek: Our group is very balanced. I see danger in the fact that it contains none of the main favourites as that raises fans’ expectations. And I do not think that this group is the weakest. Our main goal is to advance from the group and then we’ll see.

What are your main strengths?

Of course, we’ll be relying on our more experienced players, such as Petr Cech, Tomas Rosicky and Milan Baros. The greatest strength is probably the fact that we have gradually created a united team that pulls together.

Your time as national coach began badly and the team struggled. Now, however, you have turned things around. What’s changed?

After the 2010 World Cup qualification campaign we lost some experienced players and we had to find replacements. We tried out more than 50 players and that was one of the reasons why our results weren’t so good right from the beginning. Fortunately, we succeeded in choosing the right team and system at the right time, and success has come.

You were heavily criticised in the Czech media during the qualification campaign. How did you manage to cope with that?

It wasn’t easy, but I was convinced we were on the right path, even when the results weren’t good. I’m glad that time has shown this to be true.

You’ve used a 4-5-1 formation in recent games, with Baros as a lone striker. What are the advantages of this system?

I’d characterise our system as 4-2-3-1, but the system is not as important as how the players are able to carry it out. The advantage of this system is that it creates a strong midfield, and that there are fast and skilful players on the wings who can support Baros.

How does qualifying for Euro 2012 as a coach compare to qualifying for the 1990 World Cup as a player? 

Both brought me happiness because in each case the path to the finals was a difficult one. The difference, of course, is that as a player I was responsible only for myself whereas as a coach I am responsible for all the squad.

You’ve picked several Viktoria Plzen players. What impact have they had?

Well, Viktoria Plzen are the Czech champions, they qualified for the Champions League and their players have gained confidence and experience, so we’ve been able to benefit from this in the national team.

Was the squad for the Ireland friendly – plus Tomas Rosicky – basically the one going to Poland?

There’s no time for experimentation as the next time we’ll get together will be at the training camp before the tournament. Therefore, there will be no major changes to the squad – I hope! Like all national coaches, my biggest fear is injuries.

At every big tournament there are players who are little-known internationally who make a big impact. Which of your squad could do that at Euro 2012?

Every player wants to become better known and move to bigger clubs. Today, however, scouts have players well mapped. There is far more TV coverage around Europe so teams know each other much better. It’s difficult to discover someone new.

There are more domestic players in this Czech squad than in the past… 

The Gambrinus liga can’t be compared with top European leagues as Czech clubs can’t afford to sign top players; the opposite is true. So high-quality Czech players leave our league to go abroad. But the fact that we now have more Czech league players in the team is good. Those players are more motivated to play for the national team.

This is your first big international tournament as a coach. Have you asked any other coaches for advice?

Everyone must find their own way so I will not rely on anyone else’s experience.

Will you maintain a Czech team tradition of taking its own food and drink to international tournaments?

No, we’re confident we have everything in place.

Interview by Sam Beckwith

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