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Under-21 Euros Preview: Czech Republic

The Czech Republic is hosting its second large sporting event this year, as they will be the site for the Under-21 European Championship that starts on June 17. The Czech Republic hosted the IIHF Hockey World Championship in May. Although it’s a under-21 tournament, as long as the players are born in or after 1992, making the maximum age 23. That’s because the qualifications for the tournament started in 2013.

As the hosts, the Czech team didn’t have to go through qualifications, leaving them to only play friendlies leading up to the tournament. But the hosts usually do well in the tournament and with players like Tomas Kalas (Chelsea), Jaromir Zmrhal (Slavia Praha), and Vaclav Kadlec (Sparta Praha), they will be a tough test for Denmark, Germany and Serbia in Group A.

Kalas is the most experienced player in the team with 20 appearances for the under-21 national team. He’s been at Chelsea since 2010, but spent part of this year on loan at Middlesbrough in the English second division and played 17 games for them as they came close to winning promotion to the Premier League, but fell to Norwich in the promotion playoffs.

Kalas has had previous loan outs to clubs like Vitesse and Cologne. He’s been a highly-rated prospect for some time now and has experience from the Czech national team as well as the U-17, U-18 and U-19 national teams. He was part of the silver medal team in the under-19 European Championship in 2011.

Kadlec, Pavel Kaderabek and Ladislav Krejci are part of the senior national team and will be relied on heavily in addition to Kalas and Zmrhal. All three of them played for AC Sparta Praha this season in the Czech league and the team ended up the season in second place, five points behind winners Viktoria Plzen. Kadlec scored nine league goals in 13 games and has seven goals in 13 U-21 games. Kadlec went on loan to Sparta in January from his German club Eintracht Frankfurt.

Kaderabek will be the first choice on the right-back position. He featured in 39 games for Sparta in all competitions this season, which included four games in the Champions League and eight games in the Europa League.

Krejci featured in 40 games in all competitions for Sparta this season, and is considered to be one of the most promising Czech players. He was instrumental in the U-19 Euros in 2011 when the Czechs got all the way to the final, before losing to Spain.

The team has only lost once in the last five friendlies leading up to the tournament. They beat Ukraine away from home 1-0 and drew 2-2 with Denmark at home. That was followed up with another draw against Germany 1-1. The two most recent games were back in March when they lost 1-0 to England and beat Portugal 1-0, both games at home.

Team manager Jakub Dovalil is aiming high, despite some very tough teams in the group.

“We cannot have modest targets – our aim is to qualify from our group,” said Dovalil on UEFA’s website. “Then we would have a medal and anything could happen.”

With the top two teams going through to the semifinals, the Czechs will have to get off to a good start in the tournament, as a loss could be enough to keep them from moving on. Since they haven’t played a competitive game for quite some time, it will be interesting to see if they can get into the right mentality straight away.

The Czechs take on Denmark in the opening game of the tournament on June 17 at the Eden Stadium in Prague.

Here’s the full squad list for the Czech Republic:

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