Czechs crash out of Euro 2008

Petr Čech, photo: CTK

In this Monday’s Sports News: the Czech Republic crash out of Euro 2008 in a scarcely believable manner, as their last Group A game against Turkey turns into a living nightmare in the last 15 minutes; Czech captain Tomas Ujfaluši says he and his team-mates were short on luck, and energy; meanwhile, manager Karel Bruckner – in charge for the final time – rues the Czechs’ inability to deal with a period of Turkish pressure.

Jan Koller,  photo: CTK
The Czech Republic exited football’s European Championship in a scarcely believable fashion in Geneva on Sunday night, as they lost to Turkey in a game to decide the second qualifying spot in Group A.

It had all started so positively, a trademark headed goal from Jan Koller in the 34th minute just desserts for Czech dominance. When Jaroslav Plašil added a second just after the hour mark the game seemed to be in the bag.

Petr Čech,  photo: CTK
But the Turks turned on the pressure and put the Czech Republic on the back foot with a goal in the 75th minute, from which point the Czechs simply went into freefall. Normally reliable, goalkeeper Petr Čech made an awful mistake with three minutes to go, dropping the ball at the feet of Nihat, who duly equalised. Extra time and possible penalties seemed on the cards until Nihat added a second, brilliant goal in the final minute and it was goodnight, the Czech Republic.

Tomas Ujfaluši, standing in as captain in the sharply felt absence of Tomas Rosický, tried to put a brave face on things after the game:

Tomáš Ujfaluši  (left),  photo: CTK
“It wasn’t that bad, I’m proud of the team. We played good football, though without any result, obviously. We were close to qualifying and this has been a disappointment. We did our best and were lacking that bit of luck, and energy. It’s a pity, we were close to going through, and we won’t be in that position again with the guys who are retiring.”

Among those quitting international football are Jan Koller (with 55 strikes the all time greatest Czech goalscorer), Tomáš Galásek and possibly Marek Jankulovski. Karel Bruckner, who will be 70 next year, is also quitting after six and a half years as national team manager.

Karel Brückner,  photo: CTK
Bruckner gave his take on the debacle at a post match news conference.

“It was all more or less down to the mistake that allowed them to equalise. The third goal was a collapse – there’s no other way to describe it. When you’re under pressure you can’t fight back with anti-pressure, you just have to defend. You have to hold the ball, make a few counter-attacks – when you’re under pressure you have to cope with it.”

The big question now is: who will now replace Bruckner? Ivan Hašek, many people’s preferred choice, has already ruled himself out, as have several other possible contenders. Would the Czech football association countenance hiring a foreign national coach for the first time?