The Czech Republic enjoyed a strong qualification performance, finishing top of their group ahead of Belarus and Bosnia Herzegovina. At EHF EURO 2020, they hope to deliver a similar result to the sixth place achieved two years ago.
Ondrej Zdrahala was the top scorer at EHF EURO 2018, but his preparation has been affected by injury. In Vienna, Czech Republic face the Austrian hosts, Ukraine and North Macedonia, and they will want to extend their stay in the Austrian capital for the main round.
Three questions before the Men's EHF EURO 2020:
What form will Ondrej Zdrahala be in?
After a long-term injury, the EHF EURO 2018 top scorer was in the squad list of Wisla Plock, his club in the VELUX EHF Champions League.
In October, the coaches said that he would only return if he had played some matches.
Zdrahala scored 15 goals in two warm-up matches against Slovakia at the end of December, but the demands of a European championship will test his match fitness.
Will the goalkeepers have the same impact as two years ago?
In terms of age and international matches, none of the other EHF EURO participants can count on a duo like Martin Galia and Tomas Mrkva.
Besides Zdrahala, they were the keys to the sixth position at the EHF EURO 2018 – especially in combination with their solid rock defence, led by highly experienced THW Kiel defender Pavel Horak.
Having a coach like former defence ace Daniel Kubes, the Czechs defensive game will definitely be in focus.
Which young players can breakthrough at the EHF EURO?
Stanislav Kasparek can definitely make an imprint. The 2.02m tall MOL-Pick Szeged right back is one of the rare Champions League players in the squad.
Two years ago, at the age of 21, Kasparek played a strong EHF EURO final tournament. At the side of experienced line player Leos Petrovsky, 22-year-old Stepan Zeman has a great future ahead of him, too.
Under the spotlight: Pavel Horak
The defence ace has the most international experience at top clubs. Initially a left back, the 37-year-old became a cornerstone in defence for his clubs and the Czech team.
Horak has won the EHF Cup four times, but with three different clubs: Frisch Auf Göppingen (2011, 2012), Füchse Berlin (2015) and THW Kiel (2019).
Intermediately he played for Meshkov Brest, before joining Kiel at the start of this season.
“There is no favourite in this group, all matches will be equal. But we have the advantage that we know North Macedonia and Ukraine quite well. We do not know Austria so well, but we have to be aware that they have home advantage,” said coach Jan Filip.
The Czechs hope for huge support. “It is great that we play at Vienna, which means a short trip for our spectators,” Filip added.
The Czechs are one of the rare teams with co-coaches: Jan Filip and Daniel Kubes. Filip and Kubes share the job equally, but the clear difference is that Kubes focuses more on the defence.
Together with THW Kiel coach Filip Jicha, they were the stars of the Czech team for many years.
In 2014, they took over coaching the national team. The Czech Republic qualified for EHF EURO 2018, but they failed to reach EHF EURO 2016 and the 2017 and 2019 IHF Men's World Championships.
What the numbers say
The Czech Republic will play their 10th EHF EURO event, with their best results being sixth place in 1996 and 2018.
And they have good memories from Austria. In 2010, they finished eighth, and Filip Jicha finished as the top scorer and MVP. Jicha subsequently received the 2010 IHF World Player of the Year award.