So Czech Republic have made it through to the quarter-finals of the European Championships. This aim of reaching the last eight was most likely both the minimum and maximum aims of the side as they began the competition. Reaction back within Czech borders has been positive and now knockout football begins. Anything can, and probably will, happen.
The future also looks highly promising for this side. While there are question marks over Tomas Rosicky and Petr Cech’s long-term futures, Petr Jiracek, Theo Gebre Selassie and Vaclav Pilar will be around for a long period of time. Waiting in the wings are Vladimir Darida (who could turn out to be somebody special) and, in the Under-21 side, there are the prodigious talents of Ladislav Krejci and Tomas Kalas. The ‘golden generation’ may have failed to conquer the world in its heyday, but the future is bright.
Yet while Euro 2012 was as much about looking forward to Brazil 2014 and France 2016, as well as the present obviously, the competition in Poland and Ukraine has had a fair bit of nostalgia associated with it.
The ‘golden generation’ have often been revered as one of the best international sides of the 2000s, putting on what has been considered by journalists and fans alike the game of the decade which saw the Czech Republic come from two goals down to see off Netherlands at Euro 2004. That competition in Portugal was supposed to be the one which saw the Czechs sit atop the European mountain. Sadly, that never happened.
In the Euro 2004 semi-final, Greece defeated the Czech ‘golden generation’ 1-0. The sole goal came in injury time at the end of the first period of extra-time. Traianos Dellas’ headed goal sent the Czechs crashing out of the tournament, while Dellas etched his name into the history books as the first ever ‘silver goal’ scorer in a major continental competition.
That game in Porto was typical of the 2004 Greek side. For long periods of the game they were penned in their own half while the Czech side rattled the woodwork and peppered the Greek goal with shots from all angles. It appeared to be a case of when they scored, rather than if.
The big body blow came when Pavel Nedved had to leave the field 40 minutes in due to injury, robbing the greatest Czech player of his generation the chance to lead his country to potential European glory. Shots still rained in on the Greek goal but the breakthrough never came, Nikopolidis’ net never bulged and so extra-time was needed to separate the two sides. Vassilios Tsiartas took a 106th minute corner and the rest is history. The 2004 Czech Republic squad, the best in the tournament, went home.
Fast-forward eight years and the Greeks faced the Czechs once more on the European stage and a roughly similar system was adopted by Fernando Santos as Otto Rehhagel had used as he lead his Greek side to Euro glory. This time in Wroclaw, after a blistering start saw the Czechs two goals up, they conceded but held firm in the end as the game turned into an edgy affair. The memory of 2004 had been laid to rest, though if the two sides meet once more (and it can only be in the final) then the Greek shadow will be dealt with once again.
But that defeat in Porto eight years ago robbed the world of a potential Portugal-Czech Republic final and what a glorious game of football that would have been. Eight years later, we finally get that game.
For all the looking forward into what future competitions may hold for the Czech national team, you can’t help but look back to Euro 2004 and think of what might have been. This tournament has a habit of bringing the past back to life.