- Associated Press - Saturday, December 12, 2015

PRAGUE (AP) - Boosted by a new coach who took over after the failure to advance to the 2014 World Cup, the Czech Republic is back on a winning track.

The team won its qualifying group - helping eliminate the Netherlands along the way - to maintain a record of reaching every European Championship since Czechoslovakia split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993.

Despite reaching the quarterfinals at Euro 2012, the Czechs were under fire for poor performances going into this qualifying campaign and repeatedly booed by the fans. Pavel Vrba, the new coach, is credited with turning things around.

Vrba led his Viktoria Plzen to the Champions League twice in three years, relying on attractive, attacking football. With the national team, he has managed to combine veteran stars like goalkeeper Petr Cech and playmaker Tomas Rosicky with lesser known players from the domestic league.

“I believe we will have a say at the Euros,” Vrba said. “But there’s still a lot of work ahead of us.”



Here is a look at three key Czech players and its coach:

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PETR CECH

In Cech, the Czechs have one of the best goalkeepers in the world.

Rejuvenated after his transfer from Chelsea to Arsenal ahead of the Premier League season, Cech tied the national team record when he made his 118th international appearance in a friendly against Poland in November. He has 53 clean sheets in those games, and will probably need a few more in France if the Czechs are to make a mark.

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TOMAS ROSICKY

The Arsenal midfielder is the captain and heartbeat of the Czech midfield, and led the team to the semifinals at Euro 2004. But he missed the 2008 tournament with a knee injury, was injured again at the 2012 edition and missed a large part of the qualifying campaign this time around. He has 100 international appearances, but it’s anyone’s guess when - and if - he’ll be able to add more.

“If he doesn’t play for another half a year it might be tough for him to start to play at a short-term tournament such as the Euros,” Vrba said. “But Tomas remains for us a very important player.”

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VLADIMIR DARIDA

If there’s anyone to replace Rosicky as playmaker, it is Vladimir Darida.

Darida was called up as cover for Rosicky in 2012 and immediately impressed and played in all 10 qualifiers for France. In 2013, he was signed from Viktoria Plzen by Freiburg in what was reportedly the Bundesliga club’s record transfer.

This year, the versatile and tireless player moved to another Bundesliga side, Hertha Berlin.

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COACH: PAVEL VRBA

Vrba took over the national team on Jan. 1, 2014, with fans desperate for a more attack-minded style of play after a series of uninspiring performances.

So far, Vrba has lived up to his reputation of being a supporter of attractive football.

His team twice beat the Netherlands in qualifying to prevent the Dutch from reaching the finals for the first time since 1984.

“It’s all about confidence,” Vrba said. “And a match like the one in the Netherlands can boost it.”

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