The Czech Republic begin their World Cup qualification campaign with a tricky opener in Denmark. The Dane’s impressive form in qualification games must be a concern for Michal Bílek.
Denmark have won their two previous qualification groups, ousting Portugal on both occasions to qualify directly to the 2010 World Cup and this summer’s European Championship in Poland and Ukraine.
“Denmark is a very strong opponent, if we get a point there it will be a great start of qualification.” the Czech coach told reporters in Prague this week, underlining the difficulty of the task ahead in Copenhagen.
The European Championship in Poland and Ukraine were a success for the Czechs and the future looks bright with a plethora of youngsters ready to make the step up. Yet looking ahead to Saturday’s game it’s difficult to harbour such optimism.
Václav Pilař, 23, was one of the stars of this summers showpiece, but faces a lengthy spell out of the game with a cruciate ligament injury. His absence severely blunts the attacking threat for the Czechs; his direct, purposeful runs provide a genuine outlet for a side, which at times, lack guile and creativity.
Tomáš Rosický, Daniel Kolář, Jan Chramosta and Ladislav Krejčí also miss out on Saturday through injury. This selection quandary means that Michal Bílek will more than likely field a familiar side in his tried and tested 4-2-3-1 system. I wouldn’t expect many surprises (or excitement) as the Czechs will aim to keep it tight and break on the counter.
One of the positives that Michal Bílek can draw upon is the defensive solidity of the team. A consistent and relatively watertight unit offers a sturdy platform to build upon.
Tomáš Hübschman, who excelled at Euro 2012, protects the backline with intelligence, giving the fullbacks freedom to overlap the wide players. Nonetheless, the same old problems of scoring still remain.
Bílek, it appears, is still holding auditions for the leading striker role after Milan Baroš retired. The cast of strikers bidding for the role look to be as dysfunctional as an MTV reality show.
Václav Kadlec, whose talent is only surpassed by his impressive range of tattoos, has worked his way back into the fold after a promising start to the season. But there always remains a question mark over his consistency.
At the other end of the spectrum there is David Lafata, the 29 year-old Jablonec striker who topped the Czech scoring charts last season. An unremarkable player with a remarkable scoring record, a striker that remains on the fringes of the team based on his domestic form.
Tomáš Pekhart, the 23 year-old Nurenburg striker is in pole position to lead the line for the Czechs against Denmark, however he has yet to score an international goal in 14 attempts. Despite this, Pekhart looks to have the attributes to develop into a fine international forward, given time and opportunities.
Personally, I can see the Czechs lining up with the players below.
Some people may prefer to see Plašil and Darida switch positions, but I think the experience and vision of Plašil suits him playing in a slighter deeper role behind the attack whilst the youthful energy of Darida is best utilized supporting the lone striker.
Slovakia beat Denmark 3-1 in Copenhagen just last month playing the same formation, which is an encouraging sign for the Czech Republic.
Much like the Czech Republic it would be a surprise to see Morten Olsen stray from his favoured 4-3-3 system. However, Niklas Bendtner, a vital piece of the Danish jigsaw, will be suspended for the game after showing his Paddy Power boxer shorts in Poland and Ukraine.
Bendtner has netted 20 goals in 52 appearances for Denmark illustrating his worth to a side that has appeared at the previous two major championships. Ridiculed and lambasted for his domestic performances with Arsenal, yet it’s a different story on the International scene.
Morten Olsen looks likely to call upon 21 year-old Aalborg striker, Nicklas Helenius, to fill Bendtner’s pink boots. Helenius made his International bow just last month in the 3-1 defeat to Slovakia. Yet, the 195cm forward could still prove to be an able interim solution.
The Danes suffered another blow when Niki Zimling was ruled out due to injury. The tough tackling Club Brugge midfielder has an excellent understanding with Wlliam Kvist in the centre of the park, allowing Christian Eriksen to cause havoc in a free role. Zimlings absence means that Jakob Poulsen appears to be the likely candidate to fill the role.
This fixture comes at an awkward time for some of the senior Danish players as the central defensive pairing of Kjær and Agger have suffered difficult start to the season. Simon Kjær missed out on a deadline day switch from Wolfsburg to Galatasaray, and hasn’t been in the best of form given the uncertainty surrounding his future.
Daniel Agger was also subject of intense speculation with a switch to Manchester City mooted as a possibility; however, he remained at Anfield but was sent off on the opening day of the season in a 3-0 defeat.
If you scratch beneath the Danish surface you will found just as many problems as the Czech Republic face going into this fixture. Leaving Morton Olsen much to ponder.
Michal Bílek will be ruing the absence of Václav Pilař on the left wing for the Czechs. Pilař and Limbersky could double up on the Danish right hand side to great effect and exploit the fact Rommedahl rarely ventures into his own half to defend.
Matěj Vydra and Václav Kadlec could make an impact from the bench. In particular Vydra, who has started the season on fire for Watford on the left wing.
However, Morten Olsen knows his side need to win with Italy and Bulgaria on the horizon and I feel Denmark just have the edge when it comes to quality, despite the absence of Bendtner.
Krohn-Deli, Rommedahl and the genius of Christian Eriksen will the tip the game in the hosts favour, although I expect it to be a very tight game.