LISBON: Former Czechoslovakia coach Jozef Venglos says the current Czech side, who face Greece in today's Euro 2004 semi-final, have many qualities of the team he helped guide to the 1976 European title.
Venglos, a Slovak, was on the bench in Belgrade working alongside Czech coach Vaclav Jezek when Czechoslovakia beat West Germany on penalties in the 1976 final.
Eight of that Czechoslovak team were of Slovak nationality with six of the players coming from the Slovan Bratislava side then coached by Venglos.
Their triumph was largely the result of an extensive youth development system and Venglos says the Karel Brueckner side at Euro 2004 is reaping the benefits of a similar approach.
“The Czechs have shown good continuity from the processes of Czechoslovakia,” Venglos said.
“They are very good at a youth level playing in a lot of tournaments at home and abroad. Now they have a very strong group of quality players with a very experienced and good coach.”
The Czechoslovak champions of 1976, in line with the approach throughout the communist Eastern bloc, refused to allow players to move to foreign clubs.
Venglos says Czech football is now getting added value from the free movement of players.
“They are able to make use of their experience from playing for top clubs in the Champions League,” he says.
“They are able to dictate the tempo of the game, they are utility players and everyone is part of the team.”
Versatility was also a key to the success of the 1976 team and Venglos is credited with transforming Anton Ondrus from a striker into a defender and moving Jozef Capkovic back from midfield to centre-half.
The route to glory 28 years ago began with the Czechoslovaks taking top spot in their qualifying group ahead of England, Portugal and Cyprus – thanks to a 5-0 crushing of the Portuguese and a 2-1 home win over England.
That set up a tense two-leg quarter-final against the Soviet Union, who just eight years earlier had sent tanks into the streets of Prague to crush a democratic reform movement.
Against the Soviets, Venglos's team won 4-2 on aggregate to book a place in the final four tournament in the former Yugoslavia which was played on a straight knockout basis.
The Czechoslovaks beat Holland 3-1 after extra time to set up the final with West Germany.
A two-goal Czechoslovak led was squandered, taking the game into a goalless period of extra-time and eventually penalties, which were won with a remarkable chip from Antonin Panenka.
With the velvet divorce in 1993 separating the Czech and Slovak republics both could lay claim to having won the title in 1976.
Venglos has little interest in such debates.
“It was a Czechoslovakian victory,” he says and he is sure that most Slovaks will be hoping for Czech success in Portugal.
“We wish them all the best. We have a history together in Czechoslovakia and now we are together in the European Union.” – Reuters