The expectation was great before his first match as coach at a major international tournament; come the final whistle, the disappointment was even greater. Michal Bílek‘s bow in the dugout ended with a 4-1 defeat by Russia, his country’s worst ever start to a major finals. On Tuesday, he returns to the Municipal Stadium Wroclaw hoping for a very different outcome.
“We’ll definitely try to avoid the mistakes we made in the first match because if we don’t, we won’t win,” said Bílek, whose side were pulled out of shape by Russia’s intelligent movement, conceding twice in either half. “I haven’t yet decided whether I’ll make any changes because we still have time to put together a winning team. We’re under pressure but that’s also what happened in qualifying. We managed to improve then, so I think it will happen again and we’ll handle the remaining two matches well and qualify for the quarter-finals.”
A loss to Greece would end the Czechs’ ambitions of progressing from Group A, though the majority of the stadium should be sympathetic to their cause. In addition to their compatriots who have made the trip across the nearby border, the Polish supporters among the crowd are also likely to back Bílek’s men.
“The Polish fans are wonderful, they are making us feel very much at home here,” said the coach, whose team stumbled through qualifying before coming good in their play-off with Montenegro to clinch their place at UEFA EURO 2012. “It took us two years to put this team together and there are very experienced players.
“Rosický, Cech, Plašil, Sivok and Hübschman are all players who’ve gone through many ups and downs. I believe they’ll pick themselves up and keep the team strong in the dressing room. There’s no reason to drop our heads and panic. We didn’t handle the first match very well, it’s not easy to take. But we’ll pick ourselves up and play better in the remaining two games. We’re strong enough.”
While Bílek ponders a defensive reshuffle which could see Michal Kadlec return to centre-back at Roman Hubník’s expense, Greece counterpart Fernando Santos has greater concerns in the same area of the pitch. Avraam Papadopoulous has gone home after sustaining a knee ligament injury in the 1-1 draw with Poland while the man who began that game alongside him, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, is suspended following his opening-day red card.
“I was more impressed by the performance in the second half [against Poland] because we only had ten players. Had we had 11 players throughout I think we would now have three points, but we don’t,” said Santos, who may well leave defensive midfielder Kostas Katsouranis in the centre-back position in which he ended Friday’s tournament opener.
“We must focus on our attacking qualities. We defended very well and also managed to attack well. This is modern football. It’s something we didn’t do in the first half against Poland, but did in the second. When our players understood that they could do both, their confidence improved, and I think you’ll see this in tomorrow’s game.”