Czechoslovakia came into qualification Group 7 as the team ranked third, having not participated at a major tournament since the 1982 World Cup. Time for the runners-up from 1938 and 1962 to qualify for the biggest stage again? Most recently they had been led by legendary player Josef Masopust (1984-87), but missed out on a place in the 1988 Euro qualification. They had not done too badly in these qualifiers, where they ultimately lost out to Denmark with 1 point, the main reason for this being a disappointing 3-0 loss in Helsinki. Still, Czechoslovakia had to be counted among the large number of decent teams from pot 3 in the Italia’90 draw.
The return of Dr. Jozef Vengloš as national team manager (1988) is likely to have been a popular one. He had steered Czechoslovakia to a bronze medal in the 1980 Euros and overseen their last succesful qualification, for the 1982 World Cup. Since 1982, he had been manager for Sporting in Portugal and various Asian teams. Building on the team that nearly had qualified for the 1988 Euros, there must have been a feeling that Czechoslovakia could compete with a solid, if unspectacular Belgium and a Portugal still recovering after the Saltillo affair.
Crisis had however struck the national team selection, as two of Czechoslovakia’s most stylish players, Lubos Kubík and Ivo Knoflíček, defected from the country in 1988. Without the two, the team looked a bit lacking of creative spark. The remaining team was a physical, spirited side with much running and aerial power. But had the loss of Kubík and Knoflíček taken away the complimentary qualities that could have lifted the team to the very best level?
24.08.1988: France 1-1 Czechoslovakia
Czechoslovakia: Stejskal – Bielik, Vlk Chovanec (c), Kadlec – Němeček, Hašek, Hýravý, Bílek – Griga (Bittengel 75), Luhový (Daněk 67)
20.09.1988: Czechoslovakia 4-2 Austria
Goals: Luhový, Bílek, Daněk 2
Czechoslovakia: Stejskal – Bielik, Bílek, Kinier, Kadlec – Chovanec (c), Němeček (Fieber 31), Hýravý (Daněk h-t), Weiss – Luhový (Moravčík h-t), Griga (Skuhravý 77)
Czechoslovakia’s team selection autumn 1988