First-timer Vrba eyes Euro 2016 surprise with Czech Republic

Prague (AFP) – Pavel Vrba knows that his Czech Republic team are Euro 2016 underdogs, but past experience has taught him that an upset is always possible.

“We can’t say we’re going there as one of the favourites but we don’t want to go home after the group stage,” said the 52-year-old coach ahead of his debut at a major international tournament.

“I think we’re one of the teams that can surprise. Football is beautiful because even the theoretically weaker teams can beat the favourites,” he added.

Talk about surprises — after winning the Slovak title with MSK Zilina in 2007, Vrba took the helm at Czech strugglers Viktoria Pilsen a year later, turning his players into stars within five years.

“Don’t think I’ve come here to be 13th in the league and worry all the time about relegation,” he told players before taking his first training session in October 2008.

Team captain Pavel Horvath later confessed to having thought: “My God, now he’s going to tell us he wants to win the title and I’ll die laughing.”

But what seemed impossible turned into reality. Vrba built a strong team playing attractive, offensive football. They grabbed the league titles in 2011 and 2013, earning a spot in the Champions League each time.

Pilsen fans will for long cherish the memories of games against the likes of Barcelona, AC Milan, Bayern Munich and Manchester City, as well as Europa League wins over Atletico Madrid and Napoli with Vrba at the helm.

Even two years after his departure, Vrba’s charm still works — under his national team assistant Karel Krejci, Pilsen have just successfully defended their Czech title.

Born on December 6, 1963, Vrba started his top-flight coaching career in 2003 at Banik Ostrava — a team where he had once played — with a 7-0 defeat at the hands of Slavia Prague.

He went on to coach Slovakia’s Matador Puchov before moving to Zilina.

Vrba took over the Czech national team in January 2014 and led them to Euro 2016 as winners of qualifying Group A ahead of Iceland, Turkey and the Netherlands.

As a consultant, he picked 76-year-old Karel Bruckner, who coached the team at Euro 2004, promoting an offensive style that suited the likes of Pavel Nedved, Karel Poborsky, Vladimir Smicer, Tomas Rosicky and Milan Baros.

Under Vrba, the team relies on attacking strength once again — in 22 games they have managed just one clean sheet despite the presence of the brilliant Petr Cech in goal.

Vrba, who names Pep Guardiola and Manuel Pellegrini among his role models, has always managed to win the important games, including both encounters with the Dutch in the qualification.

A married father of two daughters, Vrba has confessed to having a soft spot for the pork-laden Czech cuisine.

One thing he is not particularly fond of is the press — Vrba is always ready to brush off journalists’ questions.

So, asked about his team’s prospects in France following the draw that put his team in Group D alongside Croatia, Spain and Turkey, he said: “The outcome of the draw is clear and it doesn’t make sense to muse about it.”

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