Saturday, November 5, 2011

The last sense of repeating the past in the championship full of repetitions: Czechoslovakia evoked Poland of 1974. There were important similarities – both countries surprised the world by eliminating England. Both were expected to expire quickly after incidental advance, but both stunned the world by continuing ahead with great performances. Both countries carefully and slowly built their teams. Both had great and long lasting head coaches. Both had capable assistant coaches, becoming famous on their own. Both countries were not exactly innovators, but adapted very well useful elements of total football into their game, in accord with the abilities and peculiarities of the available players.
Yet, they were not identical and differences were just as many: Czechoslovakia had old reputation and Poland did not. Czechoslvakia was considered - and rightly so – in a decline since 1970. Poland was so unimportant, decline was not really a consideration – rather, then came out from nowhere. Czechoslovakia managed a revival. Traditionally, Czechoslovakian club football was stronger than the Polish one, and the pool of talent was more numerous and had more depth. Poland depended on lightning attacks, but the Czechoslovaks employed various tactics – they were very confident in defense; were able to change the tempo – or to adjust to changing tempo; they were more patient and careful.
Overall, both countries had strong and well balanced teams, with strong stars in every line. To a point, the Poles had better strikers. To a point, the Czechoslovaks had more dangerous defenders participating in attacks and often scoring the goals. However, the best advantage of both countries was that hardly anybody took them seriously – until it was too late. They were able to become lethal out of sight.
So what happened? By 1972 the Czechoslovaks were still licking their wounds from the disastrous 1970 World Cup. A new team was needed – and there was none. Meantime Poland won the 1972 Olympic games, and after that the squad was just finely tuned and shaped with careful additions. CSSR started from scratch at that year: Vaclav Jezek and appointed head coach of the national team. Jozef Venglos was made his assistant. Both coaches were peculiar for East Europe: Jezek came straight from Holland, where he coached ADO Den Haag since 1969. He managed to take his humble club to third place during the time of great Ajax. If anything, he learned about total football right from the source. Venglos did not even start his coaching career in Czechoslovakia – he ventured into coaching in 1966 and in Australia, eventually becoming the coach of the national team. He returned to his native land in 1969 and in 1973 he became the coach of Slovan Bratislava. He was still the club coach in 1976, combining club work and the national team. It is important to mention that Slovan were strong during that time – and the credit goes to Venglos. Slovan became the backbone of the national team with mainly Slovak additional players, for those were the years of Slovak domination anyway. Vencel, Pivarnik, Ondrus, Jozef Capkovic, Svehlik, Masny, Gogh became European champions, but a whole bunch of other Slovan players were also used in the national team between 1972 and 1976. Add Petras and Jurkemik (both Inter Bratislava), Pollak (Kosice), Dobias (Spartak Trnava). Add Dusan Herda, who played in Prague, but was ethnic Slovak. And this was not the whole list either – Jezek and Venglos slowly shaped their team, using many players. Some were young unknowns; some were established, but never called before; some were old, even ‘discarded’ – Frantisek Vesely, for instance. The end result was well rounded team, with equally strong reserves, and a bunch of useful players with national team experience, who stayed back simply for lack of available space in the ‘big’ squad. Jezek and Venglos new how precious is experience in the national team, even when sitting on the bench – they were not afraid to invite to the finals few players ‘for the future’, who played little so far – Biros, Herda, Stambachr. It was clear they were not going to play even a minute, but… when Stambachr became Olympic champion in 1980, and was a key player of the team, he already was formal European champion from 1976. It was long term approach – and Czechoslovakia was better suited for that than Poland, limited by smaller pool of talent.
The whole time of rebuilding Czechoslovakia was off the radar – the missed the 1974 World Cup. The team showed teeth in 1975 – the main team was more or less made and it was the right time to build confidence and shape tactics. It was a clever move – a number of friendlies were played, avoiding undue attention and close scrutiny: matches with middle-strength teams. Strong enough for tough games and experimenting; yet not world powers. It was grave mistake nobody was watching: Czechoslovakia – in my opinion – became smooth working machine exactly in these games. Results did not matter much – it was making the team experienced, versatile, and confident. It was at that time Antonin Panenka, playing for lowly Bohemians Prague, became a key national player. The preparatory work was missed… but who cared for friendlies with DDR and Switzerland in those years? The road to victory was silent – and brought great results at the end.
The masterminds of the European champions Jezek and Venglos watch carefully from the bench their team against Switzerland.
The last goal scored by Masny against Sweden – 4-0, a rare Czechoslovakian win in a friendly.
Lone striker Nehoda surrounded by Swiss players – hardly looking like future European champions at play.
Pivarnik clears the ball with his hands and Risi scored the penalty – 1-1 with the Swiss.