PRAGUE, June 5 (Reuters) - Czech Republic coach Michal Bilek has taken the first step towards silencing the critics who believed he lacked the experience to rebuild the team when he took over in 2009.
Charged with qualifying for the Euro 2012 finals after missing the last World Cup, the former international midfielder accomplished his first mission - and is now seeking success with a mixture of youngsters and ageing big names.
The Czechs face Russia, co-hosts Poland and former European champions Greece in Group A with all of their matches in Wroclaw, where Bilek hopes to build on the playoff win against Montenegro that got the team into the tournament.
"I believe we will be able to continue building on the performances we have had recently and be able to add something to it," Bilek said recently. "If we do these things we have a chance to succeed at the Euros."
The hard-working former midfielder, who scored 11 goals in 35 internationals and played at the 1990 World Cup, was a free-kick specialist who spent a year in Spain with Real Betis.
Bilek paraded his coaching credentials after winning the domestic double in his first season in charge at Sparta Prague in 2007, but was dismissed the following year.
He later served as assistant to his international team mate Ivan Hasek for the Czechs and took over after their failure to reach the 2010 World Cup finals.
Despite some initial bumps, Bilek ensured the Czechs kept up their record of qualifying for every European Championship since the Czech Republic and Slovakia split in 1993.
He will need to get the best out of long-serving regulars such as Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech, his captain and Arsenal midfielder Tomas Rosicky and striker Milan Baros of Galatasaray.
Also key will be emerging names such as Petr Jiracek and Vaclav Pilar, who is set to join his international team mate at VfL Wolfsburg. Both players got Champions League experience last season with domestic league winners Viktoria Plzen.
The Czechs beat Israel 2-1 and lost to Hungary by the same score in their final two warm-up games but Bilek is confident as he looks to repeat the success of 2004 when they made the semi-finals and were regarded as one of the best sides in Europe. (Additional reporting by Jason Hovet and Jan Korselt, Editing by Tim Collings and Mike Collett)