PRAGUE (AP) – For the Czech Republic, Tomas Rosicky is the irreplaceable one. His presence a major boost, his absence a huge blow.
Since making his international debut as a 19-year-old football prodigy more than 12 years ago, ''Little Mozart'' has gradually become the key to the Czech Republic's success. And he will be the key again when the Czechs head to Poland and Ukraine for this year's European Championship.
Although he is currently focusing on helping English club Arsenal finish in the Champions League places, he also has Euro 2012 on his mind.
''At the moment, we're fighting for the third place and every game is crucial, so that's the only thing I concentrate on. But I have to say I'm really looking forward to the Euro, no doubt about that. I have it hidden in the back of my head that a big event is still waiting for me at the end of the season but it's still too far away.''
The Czechs open their Euro 2012 campaign on June 8 against Russia before facing Greece and co-host Poland in what in what many see as the weakest group of the tournament.
''Every team seems to be happy (with the draw) but I wouldn't say it's a weak group,'' said Rosicky, who has scored 20 goals in 85 matches for the national team. ''The teams may not be the most famous ones but the group has no favorite and all matches will be tough.''
So far, Rosicky's biggest success with the national team was reaching the Euro 2004 semifinals in Portugal. If he doesn't succeed this year, the 31-year-old midfielder believes he would still get more opportunities at major international tournaments.
Rosicky was badly missed when injuries prevented him from playing play in recent years. Euro 2008 was a low point for him and the squad as he battled a lingering left knee tendon injury and missed out the tournament in Austria and Switzerland.
Without him, the Czechs escaped with a lucky 1-0 win over co-host Switzerland in the opening game before losing to Portugal.
To lift morale, Rosicky traveled from Prague, where he was recuperating, to Geneva to watch the last group match against Turkey at the Stade de Geneve. But the Czechs blew a two-goal lead to lose 3-2.
''It was tough for me,'' Rosicky said. ''I had been just operated on and was able to come only for the game against Turkey. It was a sad experience for me. I wasn't able to play but I wanted at least to give support to my teammates.''
After some injury-plagued seasons, Rosicky has rediscovered his full fitness and again become a regular in Arsenal's midfield. For his impressive recent form, he has been rewarded with a new contract.
''It's a source of joy for me,'' Rosicky said. ''It was a bumpy road for me to return. Now, I really enjoy to play for Arsenal and that we succeeded in the payoffs with the national team. I hope it will continue that way at the Euro.''
And beyond, if he stays healthy this time.
''I hope I get the lost years back,'' Rosicky said. ''I really enjoy football at the moment and I hope that will come true.''