Greece's Giorgos Karagounis cries in pain after being kicked on the face by Czech Republic’s Tomáš Rosický during Tuesday’s match
Czech coach Michal Bílek faces a nightmare scenario ahead of Saturday's Euro 2012 game against Poland — playing a vital game in front of a largely hostile crowd missing arguably his most important player.
After picking up an Achilles injury during Tuesday’s 2-1 win over Greece, team captain Tomáš Rosický’s prospects of playing against the Poles remained unclear on Friday morning, with Bilek admitting to reporters that he was considering alternatives to the talismanic playmaker.
The Czech Republic must beat the Euro 2012 co-hosts on Saturday night to guarantee themselves a place in the tournament’s quarter-finals — but they would also reach the last eight if they tie with Poland, and Greece fail to beat Russia in Group A’s other closing game. As an added complication, Poland, who have received passionate home support in their opening two games, need to win on Saturday to stay in the competition.
Instead of training with the rest of the Czech squad on Thursday, 31-year-old Rosický rode an exercise bike alone in the gym at the team’s Wroclaw base, and is a serious doubt for Saturday's game.
If the Arsenal midfielder, nicknamed “Little Mozart” because of the prodigious talent he showed early in his career, is forced to miss the game, Bílek has several options open to him in midfield. The most likely scenario would see Wolfsburg midfielder Petr Jiráček move into Rosický's central midfield role, and either Jan Rezek, Milan Petržela or František Rajtoral replacing Jiráček on the right wing.
Alternatively, Bílek could opt for a like-for-like replacement, bringing in a creative midfielder in a similar mold to Rosický, deploying either Daniel Kolář, who struggled to cover for Rosický in the second half of the Greece game, or, in more of a gamble, Vladimír Darida, an inexperienced 21-year-old who has yet to play a competitive game for the national team. The injury-prone Rosický missed out on Euro 2008, the last major international tournament the Czech Republic qualified for.
Should the Czechs fail to qualify from the group phase, Bílek’s critics — of whom there is no shortage in the local media or among Czech fans — will undoubtedly question the national team coach’s controversial decision to leave Slovan Liberec midfielder Jiří Štajner out of his Euro 2012 squad. The 35-year-old veteran was in outstanding form last season, inspiring Liberec to the Czech championship, and deputized successfully for Rosický in a friendly game in Ireland in February.
The injury-prone Rosický missed out on Euro 2008, the last major international tournament the Czech Republic qualified for, because of a hamstring problem that kept him out of action for a remarkable 18 months.
In better news for Bílek, the Czech Republic’s other big-name player, Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Čech, looks set to start against Poland, having declared himself fully recovered from a shoulder injury he picked up in the Greece game.
— Sam Beckwith is a Prague-based freelance journalist