NI v Czech Republic


Words: Roy Kitson

The International Stage On the international scene Czechoslovakia, and since 1994 Czech Republic, have been at the forefront of football in Europe and indeed in the world. Czechoslovakia were runners-up in the first World Cup they entered in 1934, losing 2-1 to hosts Italy after extra time in Rome, and runners-up again in 1962 when they were defeated 3-1 by Brazil in Santiago, Chile. They also reached the quarter- finals in 1938 and 1990. And Czechoslovakia are former European champions. They won the Euros trophy when they defeated favourites Germany in Belgrade in 1976 on penalty kicks. A cheeky spot-kick by midfielder Antonin Panenka against famous German keeper Sepp Maier gave the trophy to the underdogs after the teams had scored two apiece in the 90 minutes and extra time had brought no further goals. As the Czech Republic they were runners-up in Euro ’96 to Germany. Oliver Bierhoff’s ‘Golden Goal’ defeated coach Dusan Uhrin’s side 2-1 at Wembley. Following that the Czech Republic qualified for Euro 2000 in Belgium and the Netherlands but failed to get beyond the group stages. Under coach Karel Bruckner they qualified for Euro 2004 in Portugal, reaching the semi-finals. They beat Latvia 2-1, Netherlands 3-2 and Germany 2-1 in the group games, then Denmark 3-0, before losing to eventual winners Greece 1-0 in the last four. In 2006 Bruckner took them to the World Cup finals in Germany where they did not make it out of the group. Two years later they qualified for Euro 2008 in Switzerland and Austria but an unfortunate blunder by Petr Cech led to a 3-2 defeat against Turkey and meant that they did not progress to the last eight. In 2010 and 2014 they failed to qualify for the World Cup finals but had better fortune in Euro 2012 in Poland/Ukraine, reaching the quarter-finals as group winners after losing 4-1 to Russia, but then

defeating Greece 2-1 and Poland 1-0. They lost 1-0 to Portugal in the quarter-final. At Euro 2016 in France a defeat against Spain (1-0), a 1-1 draw with Croatia and a defeat to Turkey (2-0) saw them finish last in their group. 60 years ago – Peter Doherty’s men shock Czechs twice! This evening’s match marks the eighth meeting between Northern Ireland and a team from the former Czechoslovakia and what is now the Czech Republic. And all eight encounters will have been World Cup games, starting with the 1958 World Cup Finals in Sweden. Back in ’58 Peter Doherty was in charge when Northern Ireland made their first ever appearance on the biggest stage in international football and ended up recording two victories against Czechoslovakia. The underdogs from Northern Ireland defeated the Czechs 1-0, lost 3-1 against Argentina and drew 2-2 with West Germany before defeating odds-on favourites Czechoslovakia again in a play-off (2-1). That win meant they qualified for the last eight, where they lost 4-0 to France.  Czech greats Since the split with Slovakia in 1992, the Czech Republic have qualified for the final stages of every European Championship, with their best performance coming in 2004 when they reached the semi-finals before losing to eventual winners Greece 1-0 in extra time. They have qualified for one World Cup Finals tournament - in Germany in 2006 - but went out in the group stage. The odds are against them achieving a place in Russia 2018. Over the years the country has produced some top class players, including the following super six (who all played against Northern Ireland between 2001 and 2009):


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