Midfielder Petr Jiracek and Vaclav Pilar scored in a three-minute span early in the first half, giving the Czech Republic an important 2-1 victory over Greece Tuesday in Wroclaw, Poland.
The Czechs began their second Group A match as a fight for survival against Greece — the 2004 European champions — knowing that a loss would all but eliminate them from the tournament.
After getting outclassed by an explosive Russian attack in the opener, Czech players were well aware that fast start versus the normally stingy Greeks was needed.
But not even the most optimistic of Czech fans could’ve envisioned this: two goals within the first six minutes. Game over.
In only the third minute, Jiracek took a terrific defence-splitting pass from Tomas Hubschman and blasted a shot by Greece goaltender Kostas Chalkias.
The Greeks were stunned, but it would get worse in a hurry.
Theodor Gebre Selassie raced down the right side in the sixth minute, sent a cross that deflected off the fingers of Chalkias just as midfielder Vaclav Pilar barreled between two Greek defenders to covert his second goals in as many games.
Content with its two-goal lead, the Czech Republic stopped attacking for the most part of the second half, a move that proved to be a mistake.
Eight minutes in, goalkeeper Petr Cech failed to secure the ball in front of defender Tomas Sivok. The rebound went right to forward Fanis Gekas, who buried the easiest goal he’ll ever score.
Despite the blunder the Greeks never posed much of a threat following the gift goal.
For a team that prides itself on defence, Greece allowed far too much space and scoring opportunities, not only to the Czechs, but to Poland in the tournament’s first match.
As for the Czech Republic, rebuilding after the retirements of Pavel Nedved and Jan Koller, the team played a significantly better defensive match than the one where it was shredded by the Russians.
The victory, however, may have come at a price as Czech captain Tomas Rosicky was replaced at halftime after suffering a foot injury.
What this result means
- The Czechs stay alive in Group A and the Greeks' hopes are fading. It won’t be easy for the Czech Republic, which will face a tough Poland side in its final group match.
The winning goal
- It was a hard-rough goal for Pilar that put the Czech Republic in front 2-0 before the game was barely six minutes old. Pilar muscled his way through two Greece players and struck enough of the ball while falling to the ground.
Man of the match
- Aside from scoring the opening goal, Jiracek controlled most of the Czech Republic attack, creating other chances with ball possession.
The Czech perspective
- "This was a big goal for me, and it's great for the team. I went in very hard in to meet Gebre Selassie's cross and got to the ball with my knee." — Midfielder Vaclav Pilar
The Greek perspective
- "This was another game with a very bad start for us. We were chasing the game for the whole match after going two down so quickly. We conceded so few goals in qualifying, and this happens to us. We did find our balance but could not get a second goal." — Greece coach Fernando Santos