by Stephen Findlater
Czech Republic captain Adéla Lehovcova says it is “a dream” for many of her side as they get set to play in the top tier of EuroHockey Nations competition for the first time since 1999 following a meteoric rise. Indeed, four years ago, the Czechs were contesting the third tier in Athens, something they had been doing for most of the previous eight years. But suddenly, something clicked and the side earned promotion in 2013 to the EuroHockey Nations Championship II and followed that up in 2015 with a second place finish in Prague to soar into the elite level.
For Lehovcova, she says it’s the culmination of six years work: “We put together a new generation of national team for Vienna [in 2011]. It was our first test together as a team and while we didn’t win, we were able to develop more shape in Athens and we felt we belonged in Division B. In Prague, we had luck and we played really well with a lot of good work from [coach] Chris Faust. He made huge steps in our progress and our coaches now are really good, too, and are continuing his work. For a lot of from us, getting to this level was just a dream but now we are here, we really want to be a good opponent for all teams and we will do everything in our power.”
In 2017 to date, the Czechs missed out on a place in the World League Semi-Final following a fifth place finish in Round 2 in Valencia despite four wins from six games, crucially losing their quarter-final against Ukraine. “HWL2 was really good preparation for us; we have some new young players and this was a good time to introduce them to our team. We were unlucky in the important match against Ukraine; they were not better than us but our heads didn’t work! Since then, we have worked a lot on this and I think we are getting better and better.”
Since then, they have been forced to make four changes with two players now pregnant and two injured. They had a few teething problems in warm-up matches in heavy losses against Spain before a more event series with Russia in July in their first games together since February. They meet Spain again in the group stages – along with Belgium and the Netherlands – in the group stages in Amsterdam.
Confidence and bravery
“The first match is very important,” Lehovcova said. “Especially in a tournament like this and Belgium is going to be tough as we havent´t had a chance measure our strengths against them. Our coaches will know the way they play and I´m sure they´ll prepare us well. What we have to do is to play them with confidence in defence and bravery going forward. This will be our opportunity to show belong to division A. Even if the balance of our friendly games which we played against Spain doesn´t look good for us, we are glad that we played the matches learned from it. We know that we can play more offensive hockey and it is more prodictive for us when we try create our own game even agains better ranked opponent like Spain.”
Finally, the group match against the Netherlands in the Wagener Stadium looks like a once in a lifetime experience for the Czech Republic, though they have met the Dutch before – the indoor World Cup semi-final in 2015 in Leipzig. “A few years ago when we played European championship III, it was just a dream and we watched the Euros on TV. They are currently best team in the world and we are 24th place so a match like this will be really unique and we hope that we will be a good opponent for them.”