Czech Republic edge Ireland 1:0 in important Euro qualifier

Photo: CTK

Even before the first whistle in Wednesday evening's football Euro qualifier between the Czech Republic and Ireland, the game was being described as autumn's big event. There was no question that the Czechs - who had been suffering from poor form and had come under heaps of criticism of late - needed to win against Ireland to keep them in qualifying contention. They succeeded: on the night the Czechs played their most inspired game in months, just edging their opponents.

Tomas Rosicky (right), photo: CTK
The Czech team came under a lot of criticism in recent days and ahead of Wednesday's game there was even speculation that another lacklustre performance could cost coach Karel Bruckner his post. No one is talking that way now. On Wednesday the Czech Republic - spurred by players like Marek Jankulovski - played fast and with added spark, pressuring the Irish early. It paid off. In the 16th minute Jankulowski swapped a smart ball with Plasil, slipped past defender Dunne, and drove a beautiful shot past Given, the Irish keeper. 1:0. Afterwards, this how team captain Tomas Rosicky described the Czechs' inspired start in the opening minutes of the game:

"Of course the beginning was important and we came out better than the Irish. In the beginning we played well and that of course helped us gain confidence. It was a good game; I think the people must have liked it. The tempo was fast and I think met expectations for a qualifying match."

Red card for Stephen Hunt, photo: CTK
The Czechs dominated for the first thirty minutes and almost added a second goal on a half-volley from Sionko. Then the Irish began to push back. Shortly, before half-time Irish player Stephen Hunt came on, immediately strengthening his side's offense. Many Czech fans haven't forgiven the player for a dangerous collision with Czech keeper Petr Cech last year (that fractured the netminder's skull); not surprisingly every time Hunt touched the ball on Wednesday, he was booed and whistled. In the end, he didn't stay long: in the second half he saw red after a wild challenge on Polak.

Even with ten men Ireland had their chances, the closest coming in the 70th minute. Cech muffed the ball in the penalty area, allowing McShane to shoot at the open net. The ball was cleared off the line at the last second by Rozehnal. The Czechs then held on to their lead until the end, earning a crucial group D win that puts them six points ahead of Ireland, the closest contenders.

Marek Jankulovski, photo: CTK
The match was not without a downside: Baros and Jankulowski received second yellow cards banning them from the next match against group leaders Germany. Still, as Jankulovski indicated afterwards, his team's performance on Wednesday probably silenced at least some critics.

"It wasn't an easy game but we all looked forward to it. Above all we wanted to answer our critics. I think the criticism was far-fetched although people can make up their minds themselves. We really pushed for it, we fought and we won. "