At the recent UEFA U-17 European championships, only two teams came away undefeated. The first were the all-conquering winners from the Netherlands, and the others were the Czech Republic. The latter's overall performance was a lot less satisfactory however, as they drew all three of their group fixtures and were eliminated at the first hurdle. "I think we could have played a lot better, especially in terms of pressing and creativity in attack. We’ll show our true strength at the World Cup," coach Josef Csaplar exclusively summarised for FIFA.com.
The Czechs may have failed to register a win at the continental face-off in Serbia, but their performance was enough to claim one of the six European berths at the global showdown in Mexico. "We’re delighted to be here. We’re excited, and we want to enjoy the tournament. It's the first time we’ve made it since independence. It definitely rates as a great success, and we’re really grateful for the chance. Our fans are excited to see how we get on against the best teams in the world."
It might appear that the east Europeans are simply pleased to be in Mexico at all and are approaching the FIFA U-17 World Cup without any great ambition, but their opponents would do well not to underestimate them. In nine matches en route to Mexico, the Czechs lost only once, although that was a thumping 6-1 defeat to Turkey. They recovered quickly enough with two victories and four draws.
"It's a huge challenge. I’m constantly telling my players it’ll be a massive experience for them. They can compare their abilities with the best young players in the world, and enjoy the atmosphere at a major tournament like this."
Csaplar repeatedly emphasised the priority of the team over any individual, declining to single out particular players at this age level. The coach believes two or three of his players have the potential to make the breakthrough to senior level in the near future, but the 48-year-old, who has guided his charges to the U-17 finals at the first attempt, refused to disclose the names in question.
Balancing beauty with results
"It's important the team has a spine. We aim for creative attacking play, because results aren’t the most important thing. I don’t want us playing destructive, negative football, and I think my way is the right way," Csaplar explained. "It's important to find the right balance between the beauty of the game and getting results. We’re hoping to survive the group stage with this approach."
A place in the last sixteen is a big ask, given the composition of Group D, with USA, Uzbekistan and New Zealand. "We respect all our opponents. We’ve never played any of them before, so every match could be full of surprises. Whatever happens, we’re aiming to impose our style of play on the match." The favourites this time around include the usual suspects such as Brazil, Argentina, Germany, France, the Netherlands, and potentially hosts Mexico.
"I have no doubt that Mexico is capable of organising a major tournament like this. I’m sure it’ll be a fabulous World Cup," Csaplar concluded.