It’s fair to say that England’s opponents on Friday night in the latest round of qualifiers for Euro 2020 are not the force they once were.
The Czech Republic has provided us with some wonderful footballers down the years, but these days their squad is more Championship than Champions League.
As we build-up to Friday’s showdown in the Sinobo Stadium in Prague, let’s take a look at what happened to some of Czech football’s most famous sons.
The player who launched a thousand penalty kicks is now 70 years old and is the current President of Bohemians of Prague, the club he represented over 200 times as a player. Back in 1976, he was just a nobody from behind the iron curtain before taking the piss against West Germany in the European Championship final penalty shootout and coolly chipping the ball over big-handed shot-stopper Sepp Maier, to hand his country a shock win. Such was the impact he made that anyone having the balls to copy his audacious spot-kick was known to be “doing a Panenka” unless your Jermaine Jenas of course. His ridiculous attempt in a pre-season friendly for Newcastle went sailing over the bar leaving Toon boss Bobby Robson infuriated and ensured he hardly ever appeared for the Magpies ever again. Panenka went on to become Czechoslovakia’s Player of the year in 1980 without facing much stiff competition and was inducted into the UEFA Hall of Fame in 2014.
After Euro 96 in England, Liverpool decided that they were fed up of bitter rivals Manchester United snagging all the pin-up footballers like David Beckham and Ryan Giggs, opting to make a move for Czech midfielder and all-round sex bomb Patrik Berger. To be honest, he had little competition in the Liverpool squad at the time, with the Merseyside giants so thin on the ground in the looks department that it was striker Robbie Fowler who was named sexiest Liverpool player of the 95-96 campaign. Berger’s arrival changed all that and before long his chiselled looks adorned the walls of most teen bedrooms in the city (including Evertonians). Berger played over 150 times for the Reds before heading to Portsmouth in 2003 and Aston Villa two years later. Injury curtailed his international career and he finally hung up his boots in 2010 after returning to his homeland (via Stoke) to play for Sparta Prague.
Not to be outdone by their rivals down the East Lancs Road, Manchester United decided to take a post-Euro 96 punt on Berger’s international team-mate Karel Poborsky, who had biggest hairdo in the Premier League during season 96-97. Once the piss-taking about why Alex Ferguson had bought a woman to play on the wing had died down, it became apparent that Poborsky was a half-decent footballer as he helped United lift the league title at the end of the campaign. His star shone for just two seasons at Old Trafford before Fergie had seen enough and shipped him out to Benfica. Spells at Lazio, Sparta Prague and a team no-one could pronounce followed. The former Czech international hit the headlines in 2016 when he was put into a medically-induced coma after contracting a brain infection that left the muscles in his face paralysed and with hypersensitivity to light. Thankfully, he’s feeling much better these days.
Pavel Nedved is probably the most famous Czech Republic player of the modern era and is an idol of the Juventus tifosi having had a glittering career in Turin. In 1996 he was signed by Lazio after helping his country to the final of Euro 96 and within four years he had helped the capital club to the Scudetto under the guidance of Sven-Goran Eriksson. Nedved was destined for greatness and it was no surprise when he rolled up at Juventus in 2001 to add two more Italian league titles to his collection. Nedved stayed loyal to the Bianconeri following their demotion to Serie B after the Calciopoli scandal and after retiring from the game, was made a director at the club. He’s currently Vice-President at the Allianz Stadium, but recently his personal life has made front-page headlines in Italy after Nedved left his wife for a woman 20 years his junior.
For someone who measured six feet seven and a half inches, Czech striker Jan Koller knew his way around a football pitch. He also knew his way around mainland Europe in a nomadic career which saw him represent Lokeren, Anderlecht, Borussia Dortmund, Monaco, FC Nurnberg, another team you can’t pronounce and Cannes. The halcyon period in the big man’s career came during a five-year stint with Borussia Dortmund where he smashed in 73 goals in 167 appearances. Koller still remains his country’s all-time leading goalscorer with 55 in 91 appearances and although he wasn’t blessed with the film star looks of Patrik Berger, he remains one of the Czech Republic’s best loved players despite having retired from the game back in 2011.
Ask any Genoa supporter who their favourite ever player is then there’s a good chance that Czech striker Tomas Skuhravy will be top of their list. The striker spent five years in the port city between 1990 and 1995 scoring over 60 goals during that spell. That’s as good as it good for the player, however, although his international career reads 17 goals in 49 appearances. Skuhravy loved Genoa so much he returned to live in the city after retirement, he has subsequently became a night club owner and football pundit on a local TV station. In September of 2018, Skuhravy announced a surprise return to the game taking over as manager of Italian third-tier side Cuneo, but his time in charge was short-lived so he returned to his punditry and organising pole-dancing nights at his city-centre nightspot.