Scorers: Czech Rep. - Jiracek 72
Yet, Michal Bilek’s men deserved their 1-0 win that condemned hosts Poland to a mere spectating role in the football jamboree taking place in their country. The Czechs are a strange side. They were rotten for 45 minutes last night but excellent for the other 45 and demonstrated they possess class in the manner in which they defeated the Poles.
Two moments set them up for a probable quarter-final against Portugal or the Netherlands. With 18 minutes remaining Milan Baros worked the ball out to Petr Jiracek who cut inside from the right channel and tucked a placed shot below the advancing keeper Przemyslaw Tyton. And in the final seconds Michal Kadlec headed off the line to ensure the Czechs secured the victory that Greece’s shock win over Russia demanded of them to progress in the tournament.
“We had a poor start but we gradually improved, started to create chances and finally, we deserved to score,” Jiracek said.
When judging the Czechs harshly, as Scots do after the qualifying campaign, they forget that in that first half at Hampden last year they looked composed and considered. That was the sort of second half they produced last night. And what can be safely said about Bilek and his team is that they are no quitters, unbelievably finishing above Russia in Group A after losing 4-1 in the opening game to Dick Advocaat’s men. It really wasn’t a great night to be obsessing about Scottish input to a major finals. Craig Thomson refereed in Wroclaw and turned in a typically over-fussy performance. He somehow contrived to dish out eight cautions. Like Poland, last night may be as far as he travels in Euro 2012.
A nation came to a standstill as Poland sought a historic European quarter-final appearance with their first ever win in the finals, the Poles disappointing in their only previous appearance in the tournament four years ago. Television viewing figures were expected to top the 17 million – almost half the country’s 38 million population – who watched Franciszek Smuda’s side stage a thrilling second-half comeback to draw 1-1 with Russia in midweek. Poland were seeking to reach the knock-out stages of a major finals for the first time since the Mexico World Cup in 1986.
Smuda had claimed his team were “paralysed by fear” in the opening stage of their draw with the Greeks that kicked off the tournament. Their start against the Czech Republic was altogether different. They seemed energised by possibilities. Their opponents, meanwhile, deprived of injured playmaker and captain Thomas Rosicky, seemed fearful and tentative. Their caution might also have been attributable to the fact they had no need to supply the impetus, with a draw being enough for them providing Russia secured the expected win over Greece. The fact the Greeks did not follow the script might also explain why the Czechs seemed to transform themselves after the interval to dominate and eventually destroy the Polish dream.
They exerted complete control of the second period even before Jiracek’s winner. It was hard to square with an opening 45 minutes in which they seemed sluggish and uncertain compared with a Poland side full of running. Yet, for all his billing as the coming goalscorer of world football Robert Lewandowski, following his goal against Greece, hasn’t lived up to the excitement that surrounds him. He twice failed to find he target when being played in for openings he might have been expected to make more of.
“The Czechs played excellent football,” Poland coach Smuda said. “We had some opportunities before half-time, we didn’t take advantage of them and we lost the game.”