Czechs stun Holland in Euro thriller

La Tchéquie qualifiée pour les 1/4 de finale après sa victoire  renversante contre les Pays-Bas (Photo : CTK)

So far the Euro 2004 football tournament couldn't be going better for the Czechs. On Saturday the Czech national squad faced the Netherlands, dangerous but traditional rivals by now: the Czechs fought Holland not only in qualification where they won the edge, but also faced them at the European Championships four years ago, where Holland contributed to the Czech Republic's early exit. Not so on Saturday. Despite taking control early in the game with two goals by the 19th minute, the Dutch would lose the match in spectacular fashion, though not for lack of excellent play.

Czech - Netherlands, photo: CTK
From the outset the football was exceptionally fast and furious and there were gorgeous chances on both sides - Czech netminder Petr Cech even stopped Van Nistelrooy point blank late in the game. The striker had already provided the Dutch with one of the goals of the night and was easily one of the most dangerous players on the field.

The game could have gone either way.

In the 32nd Heitinga's shot was just tipped over the crossbar. Then, "Pitbull" Edgar Davids hit the post.

But, the Czechs added just a little more push and sparked an incredible comeback.

Milan Baros, photo: CTK
Their opener was scored in the 23rd by giant striker Jan Koller, bringing an end to his eight-month scoring drought.

Their 2nd then came in the 71st, when Milan Baros drove a screaming volley past a beaten Van der Sar. That could count as one of the nicest goals in the tournament.

"Milan Baros makes perfect use of Koller's knock-down ball to score and tie the game!"

Baros has now scored twice in as many games.

Finally, late in the match the Czech team stole the show with a 3rd and final goal that came from substitute Vladimir Smicer. After Dutch netminder Van der Sar blocked Heinz's blast in dramatic fashion, Poborsky picked up the rebound for Smicer to tap into the net.

Pavel Nedved and Jan Koller, photo: CTK
"Goooooal! The Czech Republic leads 3:2! Marek Heinz forces Van der Sar to make the stop, but Poborsky flicks the rebound to Smicer to strike the open net! What a night!"

That makes Smicer, who plays for Liverpool in England's Premier Division, just the second player to ever score in three Euro tournaments. The only other player to have done so is Germany's now retired Jurgen Klinnsmann.

So, a dream finish in a game that will surely go down as one of the most dramatic comebacks in the tournament's history. For the Czechs their win means they lock-up first place in the dreaded Group D, becoming the first team to qualify for the quarterfinals. They will now face one of three possible opponents: Sweden, Italy, or Denmark.

Note: The Czech squad will play Germany in a final match in the group stage on Wednesday, June 23rd and will kick-off their appearance in the quarterfinals on Sunday, June 27th.