Czech Republic coach Pavel Vrba heaped praise on his unheralded team, who became the second team to qualify for UEFA Euro 2016 on Sunday.
After Group A rivals Iceland qualified and Turkey accounted for Netherlands 3-0, the Czechs booked their spot at next year’s tournament thanks to a 2-1 win in Latvia.
First-half goals from David Limbersky and Vladimir Darida inspired the visitors, who opened up an unassailable lead at the top of the group alongside Iceland.
Vrba and Co. achieved the feat with a squad predominantly made up of locally based players, with 15 of the 23-man squad playing their trade in the Czech Republic.
Only Arsenal goalkeeper Petr Cech, 33, plays for an elite European club, a stark contrast to the Euro 2008 squad that had players representing the likes of Chelsea, Juventus and Milan.
“We’re obviously very happy to be going to France. I said before the start of qualification that the Netherlands are clear favourites in our group, with us, Turkey and Iceland fighting for the second spot. I’m glad we achieved our goal,” Vrba said via UEFA.com.
“I didn’t want to know the score in Turkey, but my assistant ran to the bench at some point and shouted that Turkey were 2-0 up. That threw my concentration so I quickly sent him away.
“Some 10-15 years ago, we had players at top European clubs. The situation is different now and we have fewer famous players, but it makes me even happier that we have got results with lower-profile players.”
Captain Cech, who will appear at his fourth European Championship, added: “It was a hard game for us. We played superbly in the first half, took our chances, were on the ball and scored two nice goals.
“But Latvia brought on fresh players from the bench and took more risks. They increased their intensity and we had to cope with their long balls. They scored and the last 20 minutes were hectic, but we survived and we are tremendously happy to have finished the job with two games to spare.”