NI v Czech Republic

Karel Jarolim admitted he faced a “daunting task” in looking to restore the fortunes of a proud footballing nation when he took over at the helm last year. CZECH REPUBLIC THE COACH

The Czech Republic head coach was appointed to the role in July 2016 following the resignation of Pavel Vrba and the country’s failure to get beyond the group stage of Euro 2016. It had been a desperately disappointing tournament as the Czechs failed to live up to pre- tournament expectations. They finished bottom of their group, losing 1-0 to Spain, drawing 2-2 with Croatia with two late goals, and then losing 2-0 to Turkey.  Adding to the relatively new coach’s woes are the loss from the national team of goalkeeper and captain Petr Cech (124 caps) and injury-plagued midfield maestro Tomas Rosicky (105 caps). Playmaker Rosicky, nicknamed The Little Mozart, is back with Sparta Prague after a year out which included an achilles tendon injury last March. The odds look against a qualification for Russia 2018, with the team missing a chance to put themselves back in contention for runners-up spot when they conceded a late, late goal to draw 1-1 in Norway back in June, while Northern Ireland

grabbed all three points against Azerbaijan in Baku with that 92nd minute goal from Stuart Dallas. As a player Karel Jarolim operated as a midfielder for Slavia Prague (1980-87) as well as in France with Rouen (1987-1990) and Amiens before returning to Slavia in 1991. He won 13 caps (two goals) for the former Czechoslovakia between 1982 and 1987, retiring as a player in 1995. The national coach has been in charge of Slavia Prague three times: in the 2000-2001 season; from 2005 to 2010, and he returned for a few games in 2010-11. Jarolim also coached in Saudi Arabia from 2010 to 2013 before returning to the Czech Republic. He took over as boss at Mlada Boleslav in 2014, winning the Czech Cup in 2016, before taking up his current role. His son David played in midfield against Northern Ireland in a World Cup 2010 qualifier. The game in October 2009 in Prague ended 0-0.. Words: Roy Kitson


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