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(Proud) Czech U19 team captain Josef Juha: “We used their hunger against them.”

On the 4th of May the Czech U19 team set foot on Halifax, Canada after a long and tiresome flight. Eight days later, the team wrote history by winning the first U19 WFC gold medal in the history of Czech Republic. Only two days later, we would get a hold of the team’s captain Josef Juha. Quickly it became clear that the 48 hours were barely not enough for the excitement to fade.

After arriving to Halifax on the 4th of May, which gave the players four days to adjust to the jetlag, the team had one training session a day. “Those trainings were followed by our mental preparation meetings which were led by our ‘mental coach’ Martin Daněk – and honestly, these meetings were essential to our success”, according to Juha. The team followed a ‘normal’ program, but had a couple of guidelines to follow which the captain pointed out in the interview:

  1. Have at least 8 hours of sleep.
  2. Drink tons of water to hydrate.
  3. Communication.

Communication is a term a lot of coaches want to see on the pitch, but what does it mean off the court? “If there was anything wrong, it was vital to say it out loud in order to fix the errors even the smallest ones.”

“We all met in the lobby and when I saw my team. My boys. I felt nothing but strong!”

When the tournament started, Czech Republic faced Sweden in the first game, which was clearly the biggest challenger in a group which was further habitated by Denmark and Slovakia: “It all started with our key game against Sweden, where we showed everyone how serious we were in this hunt for the Gold medal. We were prepared physically, mentally and strategically – thanks to our coaches who were perfectly prepared.”

Meeting Sweden in the group stage as well as in the finals is something very few teams would survive once, let alone twice. I was wondering if Juha could tell me something about how they approached these matches, and specifically the finals. “We used their hunger against them, actually. If you look at the very first shift in the semifinals between Finland and Sweden and analyse what really happened there, you know what I mean. You will see 120% reckless pressure on the ball after an intentionally lost face off. In my opinion, they wanted to show their power so much, that they totally forgot their roles and position play. And we took advantage of that. I also asked Juha how he personally felt about the finals: “To be honest with you, when I was on my own I felt bit nervous. But then when we had a meeting before leaving to arena. We all met in the lobby and when I saw my team. My boys. I felt nothing but strong!”

“We cared about dress code, about warm up, everything. We were like one!”

I wanted to delve a bit deeper in the differences and similarities between the two matches against Sweden. For those who followed the tournament, it was in the group stage match which the team won impressively with 5-1, that the team successfully took the momentum, which they never let go. Juha tells me that the game plan of both these games was identical but that the main difference was the execution: “We were all aware of the fact that if we want to be the best at the end of the WFC tournament we need to simply move our game to another level. The game plan itself was simple and yet very effective. The first key point of our plan was based on our impenetrable defense. Another important feature of our game was confidence, creativity and bravery in offense.” He continues in the same enthusiastic tone, not forgetting to highlight individuals in his team: “If I am talking about confidence and creativity. Look at the goals scored by our center-forwards Matyáš Šindler and Filip Langer. Pure skill and confidence. Nobody could have stopped them. Nobody.”

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What the team did was historical. The first U19 WFC gold medal for Czech Republic which was celebrated widely throughout the country, even picked up by the nation’s biggest media outlets. The question that came next was perhaps a logical follow-up. What made this generation so good? “We were all united. We played, behaved and thought like professionals on the top level. I mean it was mainly caused by the ‘mental preparation meetings’ we had almost daily. But still it was us who managed to connect. We cared about dress code, about warm up, everything. We were like one! And another thing is that if you get together 20 hungry lions, there is a big chance of the ‘golden’ feast.”

To be captain of the team that managed to take the gold was something very special, according to Juha: “At the very beginning they chose me to be their captain. And ever since I felt like I must not let them down. I just really hope, they are going to read this article. Because I want to thank them so much. That is why I sometimes scream like a mad gorilla after a goal. Because all of that joy and happiness belongs only to them! A huge honor, responsibility, but even super fun.”

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The intra-national transfer from Bohemians to Sparta Praha is the next step in his young career. “Yes, something very new ahead of me. But I just feel it’s the right thing to do. To me, Sparta seemed as the best option of all. Great team spirit, clear vision, beautiful arena and gym – where I am gonna be 24/7 (laughs). I am very excited. But now my thoughts are still with one and one thing only: the finals and being World Champions!”

What was left was a big shout-out and thank you:

“I want to thank to all staff behind the scenes as well!
Mandy – Physiotherapist, DJ, dancer, warm up boss
Vendy – Thai massage master
Skrůža – The friend on the phone
Tofi – the best trainer of the best artists! Our goalkeepers! 🙏🏽
And mainly.. the biggest thanks to Jakub Mudra.. he is our material guy and he is the boss.”

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