Lucie Vonkova is one of the most experienced players in the Czech Republic
Second place in the qualifying group for EURO 2022 is still within reach
"We’re not the best but we’re on track to become a very good team"
Lucie Vonkova has recently been out injured for Czech Republic, just as they are hoping to qualify for their first ever major tournament – the UEFA Women’s EURO.
It was a bitter pill for the Czechs to swallow, as the 28-year-old is not only the captain of the team but also one of their most important players. They currently find themselves third in their group behind Poland and Spain. A win over Moldova is an absolute must if they are to grab second place, but whether Vonkova will be there to help them is still by no means certain.
"There are no guarantees yet but I hope that I’ll be fit enough by then. I’ve been having problems with my back for a while including a herniated disc," she explained in an interview with FIFA.com. “I’ve had to go back to square one but I’m really hoping that I’ll be able to make it.”
"I’m very proud of the team, and I’m also very proud that a lot of the girls have gone abroad. I see a lot of strength in the team. The experience that the players get abroad is now becoming clear to see. We're on the right track. We’re not the best but we’re on track to become a very good team.
"It’s in our own hands: we need to win against Moldova. I hope that Spain still give it 100 per cent against Poland, show what they’re capable of and come away with a win, and we can then finish second. I would be very proud if we were to qualify for a major tournament for the first time in our history."
What the striker says underlines how many players have been following her example. Vonkova began her career in her home country back in 2006 with Slavia Prague, where she won the league title and the cup in 2013. The Czech international then moved to the Bundesliga, with two years at MSV Duisburg before joining USV Jena (2015–2017) and then turning out for Bayern Munich in 2017–2019. Since the 2019/2020 season, she has been playing for Ajax in The Netherlands – the country which made the final of the recent FIFA Women’s World Cup™.
"I began playing in the Czech Republic and always scored a hatful of goals. We won virtually every match at a canter. Then I went to Duisburg and we lost virtually every match. I was up front and didn’t score for a good long while which was a totally new experience for me. It was tough," she says of her career path.
"Then I moved on to Jena and that was a very good time. We had a great team and a good coach. I love coaches who know how to get the best out of their players and that was the case in Jena, where I had a really good relationship with Daniel Kraus (who is now at SC Freiburg). He managed to turn me back into a striker who scored goals and got my self-confidence back. At Bayern the competition was at a whole other level. In Jena I was a regular, but in Munich it was very different."
Everyone use to laugh at me in the Czech Republic, saying: you’ll never make any money from football, you’ll never be a professional. Now it’s my turn to laugh at the people who said I’d never make it. I can earn a living from football and I’ve playe...
No fewer than six strikers were vying for a spot up front for Bayern, making life tough for the affable Czech, but she channelled that challenge to make herself mentally stronger and carry that over into her performances for the national team.
"I don’t need to be captain, I can take responsibility without having the armband on. I’m a leader on the pitch and I push my team to improve. That’s just the kind of person I am. I played for Bayern Munich but I always kept my feet on the ground.
"I was never the kind of person to say: ‘Hey, I play for Bayern and you only play for such-and-such’. That’s not the kind of person I am. My team-mates can learn from me. I had to miss out on the recent internationals due to injury and it was nice to hear that the team missed me out on the pitch and in the changing rooms."
During tough times when things are not going quite as planned in footballing terms and your body is letting you down, it is important to be able to count on someone else for support, and in wife Claudia van den Heiligenberg (or Vonkova as she is now known), the Czech striker has exactly that.
"Obviously it’s a little easier for me that my wife is a footballer. She’s achieved such a lot and has so much experience. She’s won 97 caps for Holland and played for Ajax as well as with me at Bayern. She’s always supported me and that has always made things a bit easier for me. I’ve been injured quite often recently – you’re doing something you love and then injuries hit. I’m so happy therefore that I’ve got a woman like her at home."
With the help of her wife, Vonkova will no doubt soon be back to her very best – and hopefully in time to have a say in how EURO qualifying pans out.