"If you can imagine it, you can achieve it. If you can dream it, you will have it," a favourite saying of one of the greatest handball goalkeepers of all times. Renowned Czech handball expert Michal Barda spoke to ehf-euro.com about Czech Republic´s prospects to climb the ladder at the upcoming EHF EURO 2014.
Czech Republic will head to Denmark for their fourth consecutive EHF EURO, hoping to continue in pleasant results from the qualifying campaign, and perhaps, surprise one of Europe´s handball giants.
Eliminating Germany in qualifying, having a leader in Filip Jícha and gaining positive energy from friendlies against the current silver medallists Serbia, gives fans understandable optimism and hope.
Czech Republic met the runners-up from the last EURO Serbia in two friendly games in early November, Vladimir Haber giving youngsters opportunity to shine and fight for their ticket to Denmark.
The team was not complete, however, missing the best of the best, Filip Jícha (THW Kiel) due to illness and Daniel Kubeš (Melsungen), the head of Czech defence.
"Still, it was a nice opportunity for the young guns to face stars like Illić and co. in person, but you cannot overestimate a preparatory match played three months before the EURO," admitted Barda.
‘Nároďák’ as Czech fans call their team, drew the first game and won 30:25 the second, two positive results that are sure to give the players a large boost ahead of the hard work to come.
"It is an appetiser. It is a signal that the team is on the right track, but if you want to climb Everest, feeling good while lying under the tree in your garden won’t solve anything," Barda said.
The games with Serbia have given the coaching duo Vladimir Haber and Jaroslav Hudeček their last chance to test new players in the squad, train for different game scenarios and realise what needs improvement.
The Czechs will participate in a tournament at the beginning of January in Hungary and then will head to Denmark.
"I am sure the guys have a rather clear picture about the squad already. You have to keep some options open all the time but you cannot conjure up three Filip Jichas out of a hat before the championship," the expert told ehf-euro.com.
Squad question marks
With the likes of David Juriček and Václav Vraný retiring from the national side, Vladimir Haber has a hard task to find an alternative for the vital position of a line player. Alois Mráz, TV Hütenberg left back, was a solid solution against Serbia.
All handball fans know handball player of the century Magnus Wilander and Michal Barda finds an interesting connection between the Swedish and THW Kiel legend and Czech Republic’s problem on the line.
"You cannot compensate for David or Václav easily. David proved what an extraordinary, intelligent and dedicated player he was for more than a decade. Václav was a pillar of the defence – you have to adapt the system if such players go out of the team. There are surely some options – do you remember Wislander playing on line in Kiel?" asked Barda.
On the other hand, the position of goalkeeper is the one Czechs do not have to worry about. Experienced duo Petr Štochl (Fuchse Berlin) and Martin Galia (St. Gallen) have proven to be reliable and shown long term quality over the years.
"Experience, trust in the team and personality. Sometimes the goalkeeper is expected to save some shots as well and they both really do," says the former European champion with Dukla Praha in 1984.
The leader. The captain. The star. Filip Jícha was been awarded 2010 World Handball Player of the Year and is without doubt the most important player for the Czechs.
The THW Kiel left back has a big impact on what happens on and off the court. Before the games against Serbia, which he spent ill on the bench, Jicha rewrote different signals for players to learn together with the video material for tactical preparation.
“Filip is not only a perfect handball player – he is a complex person as well. His dedication means a lot for the team. In Kiel this season he shows how a team captain behaves and how he contributes to new team creation and success.
“He is a giant on and off the court, an extremely noble and modest person. Handball is so simple and beautiful if you watch him playing and he opens a new tempting universe for the young players when he talks about handball,” states Barda.
Czech Republic find themselves in tricky Group A. On first look, one of the easier groups, but the Czechs cannot not feel too comfortable.
"I expect Austria to be the next star fighter - I do not know only if they will be ready in Denmark already.
"They have a good system, they have good players and they are focused and hungry after 2010. The Macedonians are extremely dangerous with Kiril Lazarov and the crew around him and Denmark at home is surely heading for the finals - at least," he predicts.
The Czechs are waiting for significant success in a major event since gaining independence in 1993. Barda lead the Czech national side in EHF EURO 1996 to sixth place, their best result to date and he would not mind Vladimir Haber´s side emulating that achievement in Denmark.
"Anything can happen at the EURO. The Main Round is the place where the fun begins and anything more is a nice bonus. I do not mind if the team repeats the results from our game against Denmark during the Euro 1996 –we beat the Danes by six goals there. That could make things really interesting," said the former coach.
"I call success to play above team’s potential and expectations and to learn game by game. The ingredients seem to be right and we will see if it is enough for haute cuisine already.
"The team is mentally strong and focused. We would wish to have more players playing European Cup competitions with their club teams, but you cannot have everything.
"The commitment and determination of experienced players are great inspiration for the rookies coming to the team,” concludes Barda.