In 2006, the Czech Republic finally did it. Karel Bruckner's men qualified for Germany 2006 - the first participation of this fledgling nation, which was formerly part of Czechoslovakia, at a FIFA World Cup™.
Not that qualification was a stroll in the park for the Czechs - in fact, it took a play-off defeat of Norway to make sure of their FIFA World Cup berth. Bruckner, nevertheless, described the campaign as his "greatest success as a coach".
The Czechs' qualification is merely the continuation of their success at the UEFA EURO 2004 in Portugal. Despite losing in the semi-finals to eventual winners Greece, the Czech Republic produced what was widely accepted as being the most flowing, attractive football of the tournament. They were the only team not to drop a point in the group stages, coming from behind to win against both Germany and Netherlands. The emergence of Bruckner's men was one of the definite highlights of the tournament.
They were hoping to make a similar impact at the 2006 FIFA World Cup. Their refreshing brand of attacking football saw them finish top scorers of the European qualifying phase, with Jan Koller second-highest scorer overall on nine goals.
Their first participation at the final phase of a FIFA World Cup was a disappointment, however. A 3-0 win over USA was followed by a pair of 2-0 defeats to Ghana and eventual winners Italy which saw them finish third and fail to make it through to the knock-out stage. Shortly afterwards, star midfielder Pavel Nedved retired for good from international football, leaving Bruckner with the unenviable task of replacing his playmaker as well as trying to build a new team with younger players.
Bruckner certainly rose to the challenge. In qualifying for UEFA EURO 2008, the Czech Republic secured a fine 3-0 win in Germany which saw them book their ticket for Austria and Switzerland before the campaign had even drawn to a close. Despite a bright start at the event itself, the Czechs were eliminated in the group stage once more, losing their final game 3-2 to Turkey. Bruckner stepped down following this disappointment, with his assistant Petr Rada initially succeeding him. However, following a disappointing start to 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa qualifying, Rada was sacked on 8 April following a home defeat to former federation partners Slovakia and replaced the following month by Frantisek Straka.
Nevertheless, the eastern Europeans are still hopeful of earning a spot at their second FIFA World Cup in a row. At the FIFA U-20 World Cup Canada 2007, the country showed that they were a force to be reckoned with, and should this talented young generation make it through into the full team, then Czech fans may be able to move on from the likes of Nedved and Karel Poborsky and start lauding a new 'golden generation'.