Good morning everyone, and welcome to the first part of this series on modern-day Cold War football squads. As you can tell by the link you just clicked, part one involves us looking at a potential Czechoslovakian squad, to see if the combined talents of the Czech Republic and Slovakia would be any better than the two distinctly mediocre national teams we know and love today. Why are we starting with Czechoslovakia? For one thing, they come first alphabetically out of the hypothetical teams we’re looking at. The other reason is that things can only get better from here. Seriously, if this team was Neapolitan ice cream it would just be a tub of vanilla.
As a brief bit of history on the former nation of Czechoslovakia; originally a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the end of the First World War in 1918, the nation was the first to fall under Nazi rule in 1938, and after the Allied forces moved in to defeat the Nazis in 1945, Czechoslovakia eventually fell under the rule of the Soviets, acting as a socialist puppet state until its dissolution in 1993. If you needed any further proof these two countries are about as vanilla as they come, the transition to democracy came after the ‘Velvet Revolution’, where students protested peacefully until the government decided to abdicate. Come on guys, at least get a tank or two in.
The footballing history of the nation is actually pretty rich, and is a far cry from what the two independent nations have to offer today. In 8 appearances at World Cup finals, the team finished as runners-up in both 1934 and 1962, and went on to win the 1976 European Championships, further finishing in third place in both 1960 and 1980. Some of you may be familiar with the penalty that won them the 1976 Euros – with Antonín Panenka chipping the ball down the middle of the goal to win them the title, inventing the ‘Panenka penalty’ in the process. Some of the game’s all-time greats also hail from the area; František Plánička was arguably the game’s first truly world-class goalkeeper, Oldrich Nejedly won the Golden Boot at the 1934 World Cup, and Josef Masopust was once the world’s best footballer, winning the 1962 Ballon d’Or and even beating out the great Eusébio to win the prize. Mightily impressive for someone who spent their entire career playing in the Czech league.
Since the dissolution of the country, the Czech Republic have had noticeably more success as an independent footballing nation, qualifying for every European Championship they have competed in, even finishing in 2nd place in 1996 and reaching the last 4 in 2004, producing world-class talent such as Petr Čech, Tomáš Rosicky and Jan Koller along the way. Meanwhile, Slovakia have reached the knockout stages of the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2016, but those are the only two major tournaments they have qualified for to date. The best players they’ve produced are also still active, so I’ll leave you to guess at who they are before they get mentioned later.
It’s a shame to see this once-dominant combined force of footballing talent fall by the wayside in recent years, but the logical people in this world are all asking the question of, I’m sure, ‘wouldn’t it be great if Czechoslovakia still existed so their football team has at least a shred of hope at doing well?’ I’m glad you asked, Kevin. The real question is, would they do any well together? Despite my decidedly unoptimistic tone at the start of this article probably answering that for you already, let’s jump into it and make ourselves a squad of Czechoslovakian superstars!
Goalkeepers: Tomáš Vaclík, Jirí Pavlenka & Martin Dúbravka
Kicking off the selection, as you’d probably expect, is the three goalkeepers. And to be honest, it wasn’t too hard a decision to come to in terms of who the top three are. The main struggle came from who would be first-choice and who would act as a back-up to the other.
This battle is being fought between Czech duo Tomáš Vaclík of Sevilla and Jirí Pavlenka of Werder Bremen. Both are goalkeepers of the highest order, but based on current ability, the number one jersey goes to Vaclík. This isn’t a disservice to Pavlenka, who on his day is one of the best stoppers in the Bundesliga, but he hasn’t kept a clean sheet so far this season for a struggling Werder Bremen side, whereas Vaclík’s Sevilla currently sit one point off the top of La Liga at the time of writing, with the Czech keeper only conceding 14 goals and establishing himself as a mainstay in the Czech side that successfully navigated their way through to the Euro 2020 finals next summer.
Comfortably completing our goalkeeping trio is Newcastle number one Martin Dúbravka, who hails from Žilina in Slovakia, for the few of you Magpies fans out there who were wondering. Plucked from the relative obscurity of Sparta Prague at a time when Newcastle desperately needed a goalkeeper, Dúbravka has proven to be one of the bargains of the modern Premier League era, joining the club for £4million after an initial loan spell. He has proven himself as a talented and dependable goalkeeper, established himself as the Slovakian number one, and comfortably fits in as Czechoslovakia’s third-choice goalkeeper.
Apologies to Czech pair Ondrej Kolár of Slavia Prague and Tomáš Koubek of Augsburg, I’m sure you’re both fine goalkeepers, and if one of the other three get injured I’ll keep you posted on a call-up.
Full-Backs: Vladimir Coufal, Jan Boril, Pavel Kaderábek & Filip Novák
Sticking with generic squad-picking conventions, we’re going with two full-backs on each flank, and, to give credit where credit is due, there are some decent options to pick from here. Not world-beaters, but decent nonetheless. We’re still in vanilla country, people.
We have two lads currently starring for Czech champions Slavia Prague on either side of the two centre-backs starting here, with Vladimir Coufal at right-back and Jan Boril at left-back. I’ll be honest, I don’t really know the first thing about these two, but I do know they’ve recently established themselves as the first choice full-backs for club and country, and that’s good enough for me. I’m sure both of them are stand-up fellas to grab a pint with as well. You might even say the left back is… Boril-liant.
Should either Coufal or Boril find themselves too hungover to play football after one pint turns into ten, then we can call upon the services of Hoffenheim right-back Pavel Kaderábek and Trabzonspor left-back Filip Novák, both of whom are also from the Czech Republic. For those of you wanting more information on the two of them, if I don’t know that much about the first choices then I’m going to be even less useful with the back-ups. I know that they at least play semi-regularly for both club and country, but perhaps not as regularly or consistently as our Slavia superstars do. I’m sure Kaderábek and Novák aren’t bad fellas to get a pint with either, but Coufal and Boril seem like the kind of guys who’d down 5 pints in half an hour, neck another 10 jägerbombs and still smash the rowdy gang in the corner at pool, solidifying their place in the starting XI. But I can only speculate.
Slovakian fullbacks Peter Pekarík of the right, both positionally and politically (maybe) and Dávid Hancko of the left, also positionally but is more debatable politically (probably), also deserve an honourable mention, as do Czech left-back David Limbersky and his fellow Czech right-back Theodor Gebre Selassie, a mainstay in my Bundesliga XI on FIFA 13 Ultimate Team.
Centre-Backs: Milan Škriniar, Martin Škrtel, Ondrej Čelutska & Marek Suchy
Slovakia may not have made up much of the talent in this squad so far, but the centre-back pairing they’ve provided us with are a near godsend to us. In Škriniar they have one of the most talented and sought-after centre-backs in world football, who has already become a staple in the line-ups of Italian giants Inter Milan and the Slovakia national team, and despite a pretty bare trophy cabinet, at the tender age of 24 he can only get better. Especially when he’s partnered alongside the experienced no-nonsense eggman that is former Liverpool defender Martin Škrtel. Yes, Škrtel may have retired from international duty in 2019, yes he may be approaching the end of his career at 34, and yes, in 8 years at Liverpool he only ever won the 2012 League Cup. But making over 320 appearances for the current European champions, earning over 100 caps for your country and winning Slovakian footballer of the year on 4 separate occasions is no mean feat. A perfect mix of (relative) youth and experience, the pairing of these two at the back is bound to be a nightmare for any forward line.
Waiting in the wings for either one of these two to be either suspended, injured or arrested for illegal activity on the black market, we have Ondrej Čelutska & Marek Suchy, both of the Czech Republic. Čelutska apparently spent the 2013-14 season on loan at Sunderland way back when they were in the promised land of the Premier League, so if there are any Sunderland fans reading this who can tell me if he was any good, please let me know, because I cannot for the life of me recall this man ever setting foot on English soil. His counterpart Suchy may not have ever experienced the workers’ utopia that is the North East of England, but he has forged a modest career for himself, playing in the Russian and Swiss leagues before joining German outfit Augsburg in 2019. I don’t know a whole lot about their playing ability but I’ve seen they’ve both frequently been in and out of the Czech side, and both appear solid at club level, so they’re my back-up choices here.
David Hovorka, Roman Hubník, Tomáš Kalas and Ondrej Kúdela are also all apparently Czech citizens who play at centre-back, so I’ll give them a shout-out here as well.
Defensive Midfielders: Tomáš Souček, Stanislav Lobotka, Juraj Kucka & Alex Král
Heading into middle-of-the-park territory, a phrase that probably sums up the overall state of this team, despite that brief dip into strawberry ice cream with the two main centre-backs, we pick our main defensive duo in the midfield. We’re playing a 4-2-3-1 by the way, I probably should’ve mentioned that earlier.
Tomáš Souček is another star player in a Slavia Prague team currently punching well above their weight, dominating domestic football in the Czech Republic and performing admirably in this season’s Champions League ‘group of death’, taking away points from the homes of both Inter Milan and Barcelona. A competent midfield enforcer, Souček already has 20 caps for the Czech national team, and the way he’s going at the age of 24, he can only get better from here on in. His midfield partner here is a slightly tougher choice with plenty of options to pick from, but I’m gunning for Celta Vigo’s Stanislav Lobotka. His club side may be struggling right now, but Lobotka remains a regular feature in the Slovakian national team and is competent all over the midfield. The two seem a complementary pair for each other, so it’s them who I’m going to trust to protect the back line and play the ball up to the forward line.
Making up the defensive midfield numbers, we have veteran Slovak star Juraj Kucka and Czech up-and-comer Alex Král, with Patrik Hrošovsky of Slovakia just missing out on a place in the squad. Kucka currently has 72 caps for his national team and shows no signs of slowing down, whilst Král, a 21-year-old David Luiz doppelgänger, currently plies his trade in Russia with Spartak Moscow, and is held as one of the Czech Republic’s brightest prospects. Who knows, if I decide to revisit this topic in 10 years’ time, there’s every chance he’ll have spent the decade as one of the game’s great defensive midfielders. Maybe Czechoslovakia will be a country again by that time. Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself.
Attacking Midfielders: Marek Hamšík, Vladimir Darída, Albert Rusnák & Ondrej Duda
When it comes to our starting trio of attacking midfielders, Czechoslovakia is actually pretty stacked with ability. Decidedly mediocre ability, but ability nonetheless. The main challenge was deciding who was less average than others on the continuing scale of vanilla.
Admittedly, calling Marek Hamšík, the all-time record appearance-maker and goalscorer for both Napoli (though his goal tally is bound to soon be overtaken by Dries Mertens) and the Slovakian national team, whom he also captains, is criminal. It’s the other players who I’m talking about. Consistently starring for both for more than a decade, Hamšík’s facial hair may be questionable, but his ability and talent most certainly isn’t. He slots in comfortably as the main central creative force in the midfield, and probably as captain of the team. I’m telling you, even though it’s the Czechs who make up the bulk of this squad, it’s the Slovaks who have provided the two star players.
On the right, we have Vladimir Darída, a consistent performer for the Czech side during their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign, and on the other side we have Slovakia’s Albert Rusnák. Although Darída is finding opportunities at Bundesliga outfit Hertha Berlin (of whom I have a flag of theirs hanging above my door, acquired from a trip to, surprisingly, Berlin a few years back) limited, his international career is still going strong, with 59 caps and 6 goals to his name. Rusnák, on the other hand, I had personally never heard of before I started compiling this team. Again, he apparently played in England spending unsuccessful loan spells at Oldham and Birmingham from Manchester City. If any fans of either of these three teams can provide me with any more information on him, that’d be grand. Especially you, Birmingham fans, you must be able to remember something about him from those 4 appearances he supposedly made for you. He has since spent the last 3 seasons in the MLS at Real Salt Lake, which, yes, is admittedly not the highest standard of competition to be playing week-in, week-out at, but with consistently good numbers, a penchant for flair and a solid international career behind him, I think it’s perfectly reasonable to put him in the starting XI.
Completing the attacking midfield numbers for the squad is Hertha Berlin’s Ondrej Duda of Slovakia. Yes, the person keeping Darída out of the Hertha Berlin side is behind him in this combined XI. Thinking about it, it doesn’t make sense. But to be honest, we have three creative midfielders of similar ability all fighting for two spots, so rotation is going to happen. Duda is still young at 24, is a popular figure at his club, and already has 35 caps for Slovakia. You know what, I’m putting Duda in the XI. He seems cool.
The Czechs have even more decent attacking midfielders in their ranks, so a quick shout-out to Josef Hušbauer, Jakub Jankto and Borek Dockal. I’m sure you guys are all special in your own ways.
Wingers: Róbert Mak & Lukáš Masopust
This section is slightly odd because neither of these two are making into the starting XI. Instead, the two will operate as narrow attacking midfielders for when one of either Rusnák or Duda (apparently) need rotating. But that doesn’t mean either have any merit to them.
Róbert Mak, Slovakia’s favourite wide man, presumably, currently plays his football out in Russia for Zenit St. Petersburg, having starred previously for PAOK and, again, was apparently once on the books of a Premier League, and, much like Rusnák, it was with Manchester City! City fans, you know what to do. With 58 caps and 12 goals for his country, Mak is a solid and capable attacking outlet that the Czechoslovaks can utilise when needed. Our other wide-man, Lukáš Masopust, sadly bears no apparent connection to his aforementioned legendary namesake. He’ll probably never win a Ballon d’Or either. He still has a lot of talent though, as another member of the current Slavia Prague side demolishing Czech football right now, and he has also broken into the Czech Republic national team.
I’m further led to believe that Ladislav Krejčí is also a winger from the Czech Republic, so let’s give him a name drop here as well.
Strikers: Patrik Schick & Róbert Boženík
Leading the line up top we have two young hot prospects, and it’s hard to choose which one is more deserving of a place in this XI.
At just 20 years of age, Róbert Boženík already has 4 goals from 8 games for Slovakia and is a star man for his club side Žilina, also of Slovakia. Already linked with big moves away from his club, Boženík looks like a potential star going under the radar. However, given his experience and higher pedigree at club level, we’re probably going to have to go for Patrik Schick. Long considered a rising star in his homeland, Schick may currently be out in the wilderness on loan at RB Leipzig from Roma, but 9 goals in 19 games for the Czech Republic means he just about squeezes in ahead of Boženík on this occasion.
Lurking with ominous anticipation in the background are 2 players who Premier League fans may or may not remember, in Libor Kozák & Matej Vydra. Unlike some of the other players on this list, I can actually remember them playing in this country, and, to be honest, that’s one of the reasons they’re not making it in this squad. Kozák managed 4 goals across 4 years at Aston Villa and doesn’t exactly seem to have been banging them in for club or country regularly for some time. Watford and Derby fans probably remember Vydra with great fondness, but he hasn’t been able to rediscover the form that made him so well revered in Hertfordshire and Derbyshire. He currently struggles to make the bench at Burnley. Yes, that’s right Burnley fans, he does actually still play for you.
There you have it, folks, your Czechoslovakian squad is hereby complete. I told you it was a bumpy ride of vanilla-flavoured mediocrity, but at least we had some exciting moments of chocolate and strawberry to throw in there along the way.
Is this a team of world-beaters? Absolutely not. Not a bad side by any means, and Škriniar and Hamšík are the two clear standout players, but I wouldn’t say it’s a side capable of winning a major tournament. Though Greece did win Euro 2004, shocks do happen after all. But in a theoretical world where we’re having to do everything at face value, they don’t have a chance.
For those of you who have been left wondering, since Prague was the capital of the former Czechoslovakia, that’s where the team will be playing, in the comfort of the Generali Arena, home of former Czech powerhouses Sparta Prague. Given the slight edge in overall quality the Czechs give the side, I’ll hand managerial duties over to their current national team manager, Jaroslav Šilhavy. Saying that, the poorly-made graphic below shows that there’s actually a fairly even split of talent, so you know what, fair play, Slovakia, you went and proved me wrong.
Thanks for reading everyone! If my clear lack of Czech and Slovakian football knowledge was to your amusement for some reason, be sure to go ahead and read the other articles on this series, which focus on East Germany, the Soviet Union, and Yugoslavia.
Again, thanks for reading, good night and good ebening.