VLADIMIR COUFAL warned England that Euro 96 vibes suit Czech Republic perfectly.
Everybody remembers the Three Lions’ run to the semi-finals on home soil. But it is often forgotten the Czechs reached the FINAL before also losing to Germany.
Vladimir Coufal warned that Czech Republic are ready to stun Europe again[/caption]
This month England and Scotland will both host Group D clashes with Coufal’s nation.
And he will come up against Phil Foden sporting the same bleached hairstyle Paul Gascoigne had in 1996.
But the West Ham defender, 28, said: “We want similar success.
“And we respect the past — particularly the team of 1996.”
Coufal would love to replicate the kind of success Karel Poborsky and his Czech mates enjoyed at Euro 96.
But the West Ham full-back knows it will be extremely tough to do so as “football has progressed so much since then”.
Czech Republic were the surprise package 25 years ago, going all the way to the final before losing in extra-time thanks to Oliver Bierhoff’s golden goal.
England fans still torture themselves with what might have been had they seen off eventual winners Germany in the semis — believing they would have had the beating of the Czechs.
Alan Shearer, Gazza and Co certainly would have fancied themselves on home soil.
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But Dusan Uhrin’s side were no mugs and reached the final on merit, beating Italy in their group, Portugal in the quarters and France on penalties in the last four.
Two of the team’s stars earned moves to Premier League royalty off the back of that tournament.
Patrik Berger went to Liverpool and Poborsky, who scored one of the Euros’ most famous goals with an impudent lob against Portugal, joined Manchester United.
While they also had a future Ballon d’Or winner in their ranks in Pavel Nedved, who landed a switch to Lazio later that summer.
It remains their greatest achievement at a major tournament since Czechoslovakia split into two independent nations — Czech Republic and Slovakia — in 1993.
Though they were not far off matching it in 2004, when the likes of Poborsky, Nedved and Petr Cech were beaten in semi-final extra-time by Greece, who went on to be crowned the unlikeliest of champions.
Making it out of the group looks a tough enough ask for Jaroslav Silhavy’s side this summer.
They face England and Scotland, who both have home advantage, as well as World Cup finalists Croatia.
Czech Republic were beaten by Germany in the final of Euro 96 at Wembley[/caption]
Coufal, who has enjoyed a terrific debut Prem campaign with West Ham, knows his side are up against it.
The ex-Slavia Prague ace, 28, said: “It’s a very difficult group. We’ve got two games away against England and Scotland. Croatia are strong as well.
“We respect the successes of the past, particularly the team of 1996, but football has progressed so much since then.
“We want to achieve similar success but it’s a long, hard journey. Football has progressed since 2004, not much — but it has still changed.”
Vladimir Smicer, a member of both the 1996 and 2004 teams, has been in touch with Coufal and the team to wish them good luck.
The current side lack creative attackers like the former Liverpool star, but are full of determined, reliable workers, including Coufal and Hammers team-mate Tomas Soucek.
Set-pieces will probably be their biggest goal threat with Soucek, Alex Kral — another Czech target of West Ham — Patrik Schick and Michael Krmencik all posing an aerial threat.
Silhavy has drilled his style into his high-pressing team over the past three years and it helped them finish second in England’s qualifying group.
But they only managed 13 goals in those eight games, so scoring may well be a problem at the finals.
Most opponents will know what they are getting when they face the Czechs — particularly Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions, who in qualifying battered them 5-0 at home but lost 2-1 in Prague.
And there is no chance of Silhavy deviating from his tried-and-tested method, despite being walloped 4-0 by Italy last week in a warm-up match.
Vladimir Coufal and West Ham team-mate Tomas Soucek will spearhead Czech Republic’s Euros campaign[/caption]
Coufal said: “I don’t want to reveal our plans ahead of the Euros but I think people can see the way we play.
“We’re big on ball possession and we’re not afraid to take risks, which is necessary against the big teams. Against Italy it didn’t really work.
“That result was one slap but it won’t delete the three years of work we’ve been trying to do with the coaches. We do not want drastic changes to our tactics.”
Coufal and Soucek will come up against club-mate Declan Rice when they take on England in their final group game at Wembley on June 22.
And the pair plan to use that insider knowledge — not just on Rice but on all the English stars they have faced in the Premier League — to their advantage.
Sixteen-cap defender Coufal added: “Of course it is important for us that we know players from England.
“Not only me and Tomas, but also Matej Vydra, who plays in the Premier League.
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“I think we will discuss with coaches before these matches what to do.
“Me and Declan talked about these matches we are going to play.
“But I have to say that England as a team are very strong. They are incredible. They are one of the favourites for the win.
“In our match against them we need to do our best and surprise people at Wembley.”
A Czech success in England would be a shock — but then they have done it before.