“That match is unforgettable. I’ll die with those memories and take them to the other side.” Ask Jaroslav Šilhavý about the Czech Republic’s meeting with the Netherlands at UEFA EURO 2004 and the recollections inevitably come surging back.
The man charged with leading the Czechs past the same opponents in the round of 16 on Sunday has a huge task on his hands, but he cannot help but be inspired by the teams’ epic tussle 17 years ago – when he had a close-up view of the action as an assistant to legendary coach Karel Brückner.
Netherlands vs Czech Republic: live build-up
“It was fantastic,” says Šilhavý, who took over the top position in 2018. “Everything – the atmosphere, how the game developed, the goals, the drama.” Indeed, the Czech Republic fell 2-0 down inside 19 minutes in Aveiro, before pulling off a stunning 3-2 comeback win to seal their place in the quarter-finals.
“At the beginning, the Netherlands went ahead. They were crushing us, then we turned the tables with an equaliser from Milan Baroš. And that was followed by a beautiful goal put into an empty net after an exquisite combination, Karel Poborský passing the ball to Vladimír Šmicer. Pure joy after that.”
Once again, the prize on offer is a spot in the last eight, and Šilhavý admits that his years alongside Brückner continue to serve him well. “Those experiences from previous tournaments have helped me to resist outside pressure: from the press, fans, from myself. It’s very important. Mr Brückner taught me a lot – as a professional, as a human being. I have very fond memories of that era.”
His players will also be drawing extra motivation from that memorable encounter. “Like everyone, we were watching TV and cheering,” recalls defender Pavel Kadeřábek. “I was with my brother and father. It was a fantastic game which we enjoyed a lot.”
“It was a fabulous match,” adds captain Vladimír Darida, who as a child idolised Pavel Nedvěd – another of the heroes of that game. “We watched it at home. I remember that not many people believed the comeback was possible, but we scored three marvellous goals. When I got to school the next day, everybody in class was talking about the victory.”
Can Czech fans expect another unforgettable night in Budapest on Sunday? Šilhavý knows a lot of time has passed since 2004. “I think our opponents and ourselves are in slightly different situations. Back then, I didn’t want to say it outright, but we were favourites. Now we are ranked 40th in the world.
“We’re way behind the rest. So, I really appreciate that we’re in the knockout phase. The players need to work together to achieve good results. The Netherlands are a strong team. They’ve also been through a tough period, but it’s quite obvious now that they’re pretty strong and that this will be a difficult match.”
A difficult match, but hopefully one with a similar outcome. Whenever Šilhavý looks back at EURO 2004, he always adds that everything was fantastic – apart from the silence after Traianos Dellas scored during extra time of the semi-finals, his silver goal for Greece ultimately ending the Czechs’ run. But even that too could fortify Šilhavý’s team, as he and his players now find themselves in the underdog role, plotting a famous triumph to inspire future generations.