WCQ Preview: Czech Republic versus Poland
In the UEFA qualifying tournament, there has been no team more difficult to figure out than the Czech Republic. They were the top see in Group C, and even after a disappointing Euro 2008 (where they failed to make it out of their group after losing to Turkey in a classic match), they were expected to win the group. They did not get a particularly tough team out of the second pot, and even though the squad is aging without grace, they were being paved a road to South Africa.
Then the Czechs started qualifying by drawing at Northern Ireland and losing at Poland. In hindsight, with Slovakia and Slovenia leading the group, these results were terrible and dug (what was then) Petr Rada’s team a large hole.
That hole was made deeper during the summer qualifying week, when the Czech Republic only got one point from matches at Slovenia and versus Slovakia. By then, Rada had been replaced by Frantisek Straka, who was then fired and replaced by FA chief Ivan Hasek.
Hasek’s first match in charge of the Czechs got them a point in Slovakia, and after the trouncing of San Marino in Uherské Hradiště, the Czechs – even with their age issues, their reputation for failing to rise to the occasion, and their coaching change – are still alive, a state I find shocking.
If the Czechs beat Poland on Saturday (where they are favorites) and beat a practically eliminated North Ireland on Wednesday, they move to eighteen points. Slovenia, currently sitting in second with fourteen points, would likely win a tiebreaker with the Czechs thanks to both teams having a +9 differential but Slovenia closing qualifying at San Marino. Still, Slovenia would have to get a drawn Saturday at Slovakia. With a loss, the door opens for the Czechs.
This all assumes the Czech Republic beats Poland, who is only one point behind them in the table. Poland, however, has not been able to get a road result outside San Marino. Against the non-San Marino teams in this group, Poland has a -4 differential.
If the Czechs have turned a corner under Hasek, this match should not be a problem, particularly with an on-form Milan Baros and the return of Tomas Rosicky. The late scratch of Sochaux’s Vaclav Sverkos should be irrelevant.
Prediction: Czech Republic, 2-0