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Born: Thursday 16 May 1907, Prague, Austria-Hungary (now Czech Republic)
Died: Monday 18 April 1988, Prague, Czechoslovakia (aged 80)
A crucial member of Czechoslovakia's 1934 World Cup final team, Antonín Puč enjoyed a prolific club career throughout the 1930s and scored more goals for the unified Czechoslovakian team than any other player. Usually playing on the left wing, he was known for his skilful dribbling and his ability to shoot early and with great accuracy, giving goalkeepers little chance to make a save.
Puč was born in the Jinonice district of Prague on 16 May 1907, and spent much of his childhood learning to play football in the streets of Prague. As a teenager, he played for the youth teams of SK Smíchov for several years before attracting the attention of Slavia Prague. When he was 18, Puč was offered the chance to move to Slavia and although his father did not want him to sign, he made the move in October 1925.
He was immediately brought into the first team. Having initially played as an inside left, it was in his early years at Slavia that Puč became a regular on the left wing. His first season of 1925-26 brought success in the Bohemian Cup, although the Slavia narrowly missed out on the league title as they finished one point behind rivals Sparta. In the summer of 1926, Puč was called into the national team for the first time at the age of just 19. He made his debut in a match against Yugoslavia in Zagreb, and managed to get on the scoresheet in a 6-2 Czechoslovakian win.
In the short 1927 league season, which was just seven games long, Puč scored 13 league goals to finish as the league's joint top scorer. Slavia however had to settle for second place again, just as they did in the following season of 1927-28, however Puč claimed two more cup winner's medals in those seasons. Title success finally came in 1928-29, with Slavia claiming the title by three clear points and Puč leading the league in goalscoring again.
Throughout the late 1920s, Puč found the net at international level with great regularity. He scored in six of his first eight international matches, and by the end of the decade he had managed 18 goals in 22 games. That total included three in the inaugural Central European International Cup where Czechoslovakia finished joint second, just a point behind champions Italy. Like many European players of his generation, he was denied the chance to play in the first World Cup in 1930 when his country chose not to travel to Uruguay.
At domestic level, success continued to come. Slavia retained their league title in 1930 with a 100% record, and completed a domestic double with a cup final victory over SK Kladno. Further titles followed in 1931, 1933 and 1934, and the disappointment of runners-up spot in 1932 was eased with yet another cup success. Later in 1934, Puč would finally get the opportunity to play on the greatest stage in the game as Czechoslovakia qualified for the World Cup finals in Italy.
The competition was a straight knockout, and in their first match it looked as though Czechoslovakia's involvement was going to be brief. They trailed 1-0 to Romania at half-time, but Puč found a crucial equalising goal shortly after half-time to drag his team back into contention. They went on to win 2-1, and gradually found their feet in the tournament. Edging past Switzerland 3-2 in the quarter-finals, they then eased through a semi-final against Germany to set up a final against the host nation.
In the final, Czechoslovakia and Italy both played positive, attacking football with Puč at the heart of most of his team's good work. With 20 minutes to go, the game was still goalless when Czechoslovakia won a corner. Puč took the kick himself, and when it was only half cleared he found himself with the ball again. With a characteristically powerful and accurate shot from a narrow angle, he beat Italian goalkeeper Gianpiero Combi to give his team the lead. Unfortunately for Puč, his team-mates missed some excellent chances to put the result beyond doubt and a late Italian equaliser forced extra-time. Italy went on to score again in the extra period, ending Czechoslovakia's hopes of becoming champions.
The disappointment of missing out on the world title was quickly overcome as Slavia won another league and cup double in 1934-35, and two years later another title gave Puč a seventh league title in just nine seasons. Entering his early 30s, Puč was still an important member of the national team and in 1938 got a chance to make up for the defeat of four years earlier when he travelled with the national team to France for his second World Cup.
The Czechoslovakian team of 1938 however was not comparable with that which had come so close to glory in 1934. After needing extra-time to get past the Netherlands in their first match, they drew with Brazil in the quarter-finals and the game went to a replay. Puč had played in each of the first two games but did not appear in the replay against Brazil, which his team lost. That would prove to be the end of his career with the Czechoslovakian team, although he did appear (and score) in one match for the 'Bohemia and Moravia' late in 1939. In all, he scored 35 goals in 61 international games - a record for Czechoslovakia and its successor states which stood until the early years of the 21st century when Jan Koller surpassed it playing for the Czech Republic.
As well as his last game for Czechoslovakia, 1938 also saw Puč leave Slavia after 13 years. In all, he scored 112 goals in 164 league games for the club, winning six Bohemian Cups and seven league titles. He spent a couple of years with Viktoria Žižkov and made a brief return to SK Smíchov before retiring from playing in 1941. After the Second World War, he had a brief managerial career with SK Nusle and Čechie Karlín before retiring from active involvement in football. Antonín Puč died in April 1988, a month before his 81st birthday.
References (all accessed 8 February 2012):
- Published on Wednesday, 08 February 2012 15:24