When the Czech Republic begin their Euro 2020 bid against Scotland in Glasgow, many will pay a thought to a player who will not be on the pitch at all.
It was in the Scottish city that Ondrej Kudela inadvertently became one of the most famous Czech players of all time in March, an honour he would gladly let go.
The Slavia Prague defender is now serving a 10-match ban handed down by UEFA over an alleged racist slur aimed at Rangers midfielder Glen Kamara during a Europa League game at Ibrox.
“I’m sorry I will miss the Euro,” the 34-year-old Kudela, voted the best defender in the Czech league in the season just finished, said when UEFA rejected his appeal last week.
Sympathy for the player has since poured in from Czech players and fans alike.
Even the Czech president’s office complained to UEFA, saying the punishment was too harsh.
Czech coach Jaroslav Silhavy left a spot open for his first-choice centre-back until the last moment.
“Hope dies last, in Ondrej’s case we must use all possibilities,” he said at a press conference as he revealed his squad.
But he has had to look elsewhere.
West Ham connection
The Czech Republic have qualified for every European Championship since gaining independence through a 1993 split with Slovakia from what was until then Czechoslovakia.
The former federation won the European Championship in 1976, while the Czechs were runners-up at Euro 96 in England and semi-finalists at Euro 2004 with teams featuring the likes of Pavel Nedved, Karel Poborsky and Vladimir Smicer.
The current team will rely on midfielder Tomas Soucek and defender Vladimir Coufal, key players in West Ham United’s recent rise that led the London club to a surprising sixth spot in the Premier League this season.
Tomas Vaclik, who is leaving Sevilla this summer, will likely be the first-choice goalkeeper.
Hertha Berlin midfielder Vladimir Darida, the captain, and Bayer Leverkusen striker Patrik Schick are other stalwarts in Silhavy’s side, while 18-year-old Sparta Prague striker Adam Hlozek is a prodigy to watch.
Change of plan
The Czechs have been preparing for the Euro at a training camp in northern Italy but their plans were thrown into some disarray last week.
Silhavy’s side were due to be based in Edinburgh during the competition but the Scottish government’s strict Covid-19 rules — meaning the whole squad would have to go into quarantine if one positive case was detected — forced a change of plan.
The Czechs will now be based at home and will fly into Glasgow for the games against Scotland and then Croatia four days later, also at Hampden Park.
Combined with the Kudela case, it means it has not all been plain sailing for the side ranked 40th in the world.
The Czechs drew 2-2 with Croatia in the group stage at Euro 2016, while they played England in qualifying for this tournament.
England won Group A ahead of the Czechs but lost 2-1 in Prague in October 2019, their first loss in a qualifier in 10 years.
When announcing his squad, Silhavy said the postponement of the tournament by a year because of the Covid-19 pandemic had been a good thing.
“The year helped everyone. We got to know more players. We also saw what they can do,” said the 59-year-old, a tough defender in his own playing days.
“I’m convinced we’ve put together an interesting team that can go really far,” he added.
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