Czechs sensationally win their group at EURO 2012 to book quarter-final spot

Photo: CTK

The Czech Republic’s national football team defeated EURO 2012 co-hosts Poland in their last group-stage game on Saturday to surprisingly emerge as winners of Group A. After a disappointing start to the tournament against Russia, the Czech team gained momentum and beat both Greece and Poland, advancing to the quarter-finals where they’ll play Portugal on Thursday. But the injured Czech captain Tomáš Rosický’s participation in the game is uncertain.

Photo: CTK
It was an all-out game between the Czech Republic and Poland in Wroclaw on Saturday. The Poles needed to win to avoid an early end at the EURO 2012 tournament while the Czechs, under certain circumstances, could do with a tie.

The tournament co-hosts Poles had an amazing start and were very close to scoring as the Czech defence barely managed to stop the Polish attacks. The Czechs, with Daniel Kolář instead of injured playmaker Tomáš Rosický, were moreover quite clueless in attack where their long passes more often than not failed to find the lone striker Milan Baroš.

But the Czechs survived the first half without conceding a goal, and gradually came to dominate the play in the second. The decision came with some 20 minutes to go when defender Tomáš Hübschmann won the ball and sent Milan Baroš onto the break. Baroš kept the ball before passing it to Petr Jiráček who cut inside and found the net beyond the Polish goalkeeper.

Petr Jiráček,  photo: CTK
“It was a great pass from Tomáš Hübschmann. I just received the ball and found myself alone in front the goalkeeper. I wanted to place it near the further post which I did. The goalie touched the ball but fortunately it went in. I needed a moment like this, and I’m glad I was able to help the team.”

The desperate Poles made some last-minute efforts to equalize and their biggest opportunity came in the last minute of overtime but Michal Kadlec cleared off a shot by Poland’s Jakub Blaszczykowski to save the win for the Czechs. Czech goalkeeper Pert Čech said he believed the shot was not a real threat.

“I think it went wide. When I turned around I saw the ball and I really believed that it was wide. But obviously we cleared it and we did well.”

Tomáš Rosický,  photo: CTK
Team captain Tomáš Rosický, whose absence due to a foot injury was notable mainly in the first half, said the Czechs learned a lot from EURO qualifying when the team played with no margin for error.

“Maybe the hard way we took in the qualification paid off for us. As you could see today, in the second half, we stayed very calm. We are through and we are very happy.”

Saturday’s win was the second victory for the Czechs who stunned Greece in their second group-stage appearance at EURO 2012 on Tuesday when Petr Jiráček scored in the third minute, equalling the mark for the third fastest goal at European championships. The victory against Poland also seems to have reconciled the demanding Czech fans with their team, especially with striker Milan Baroš and manager Michal Bílek both of whom were jeered in the previous games. Milan Baroš had this to say.

“I would just like to say one thing: I want to thank to all those who have believed in us throughout the qualification and this tournament and did not turn their backs on us. This victory belongs to those very few who believed in us, and I thank them for it.”

Jakub Blaszczykowski,  Petr Čech,  photo: CTK
On Thursday, the Czechs will face Portugal for a spot in the tournament’s semi-finals. But Czech team captain Tomáš Rosický’s participation in the gamer is uncertain. On Sunday, the Arsenal midfielder left for Prague to receive treatment of his injured Achilles tendon. Rosický should rejoin the national side on Tuesday which is when team managers should know whether he’ll play or not.