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Football: New horizons for Vrba after Pilsen glory

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Coach Pavel Vrba bade a triumphant farewell to Viktoria Pilsen late Tuesday, with a 2-1 win over CSKA Moscow in the Champions League being his final game in charge before taking over the Czech national team.

Having lost 3-2 in Moscow, Czech champions Pilsen eased ahead of their rivals on away goals in a Group D dominated by Bayern and Manchester City to clinch a spot in the Europa League playoffs.

"It was a fantastic finale that everyone in Pilsen will remember for a long time," Vrba said after the tireless Pilsen battled back from 1-0 down to win on a 90th-minute goal.

"I guess the boys wanted to please me and get into the national team," he chuckled.

In five years in the western Czech city famous for its Pilsner beer, Vrba has lifted the team from rags to riches, winning league titles in 2011 and 2013 and leading Pilsen to the Champions League twice.

Vrba, who turned 50 on December 6, built a strong team playing attractive, offensive football around stocky captain Pavel Horvath, who previously played for Sporting Lisbon, Galatasaray and Vissel Kobe.

"Don't think I've come to be thirteenth in the league and worry all the time about relegation," he told players before taking his first training session in October 2008.

Horvath later confessed to having thought: "My God, now he's going to tell us he wants to win the title and I'll die laughing."

Vrba's top-flight coaching career started in 2003 at Banik Ostrava, a team where he had once played, with a 7-0 defeat at the hands of Slavia Prague.

He also coached Slovakia's Matador Puchov and then MSK Zilina, with whom he won the Slovak title in 2007 before moving to Pilsen.

Pilsen fans will for long cherish the memory of games against giants Barcelona, AC Milan, Bayern and Manchester City.

But even more memorable were the team's wins over Atletico Madrid and Napoli in the Europa League last season, which the Czech media coined as "the miracle of Pilsen".

Angering Pilsen officials and fans alike, Vrba agreed to an offer to take over as coach of the national team as of January 1, 2014.

He used a clause in his contract running until June 2015, which allowed him to leave upon the payment of a release fee worth 8 million koruna (290,000 euros, $401,000).

"It was a terribly difficult decision, what with the environment here and the fans," Vrba said.

"I could go on enjoying this wonderful life but I want to try something new. Now I'm facing an unknown situation."

The anger on Pilsen's side was short-lived, and many fans failed to fight back tears after Vrba's last league game on December 1.

"He came as a coach, he leaves as a legend. Thank you!" read a banner displayed by fans on Tuesday.

Vrba will take over from Czech Republic interim boss Josef Pesice, who replaced Michal Bilek in September after the Czechs failed in their bid to reach next year's World Cup in Brazil.

In the national team, he will be able to pick several current and former Pilsen players, including Vladimir Darida, Petr Jiracek and Vaclav Pilar, all of whom have moved to the Bundesliga since rising to stardom in Vrba's hands.

Leaning on Premiership stars Tomas Rosicky and Petr Cech, the Czech Republic team is looking to regain the face it has lost since finshing third at Euro 2004.

Vrba's first match in charge will be an international friendly against Norway in Prague on March 5.

At Pilsen, Vrba is most likely to be replaced by Dusan Uhrin jr., who recently quit Georgian champions Dinamo Tbilisi.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/131211/football-new-horizons-vrba-after-pilsen-glory