After a humiliating result against Russia on the opening night, many people thought the Czech Republic would go crashing out at the group stage, but they have fought back well with two decent, but somewhat fortuitous, wins against Greece and Poland. They rode their luck in the early stages of Saturday night’s game after the Polish were very wasteful, before Petr Jiracek scored the winner in the 70th minute, with a smart finish. Michal Kadlec’s last gasp goal-line clearance helped too. But the quarter-finals will be as good as it gets for a Czech side that is nowhere near as good as the ones they have preceded. Milan Baros has had a very poor tournament so far as has Chelsea’s Petr Cech – it is only Jiracek and Vaclav Pilar who have shown any real quality. In the next round they will face much stiffer opposition and any of Germany, Holland, Portugal or even Denmark will surely send the Czechs packing.
There was a lot of pressure on Robert Lewandowski heading into Euro 2012. He was touted as Poland’s best player and the striker’s name will have been familiar to English fans, but few had actually witnessed him in action. In the first game against Greece, he was decent and took his goal well, but perhaps should have added to his tally. He was indifferent against Russia but still put in a solid performance. But against the Czechs, he wasted an early chance to put the Poles ahead, just like he did in the tournament opener, and failed to really get in to the game. In all three Group A ties, he started well before fading as the game passes him by, a bit like his team-mates. This tournament was all set up to be the making of the Borussia Dortmund striker but his price tag will not have increased after an underwhelming performance on Saturday night.
Having made an almighty blunder against Greece which nearly cost the Czechs three points on Tuesday, there was considerable pressure on Cech against Poland – and he looked shaky. There is no doubting how good a goalkeeper Cech is when he plays for Chelsea – he was superb in the Blues’ victory over Barcelona, and brilliant against Bayern Munich, and he has shown great consistency over the past eight years at Stamford Bridge. But for his country, he is prone to the occasional shocker. In Geneva at Euro 2008, his error sent Turkey through to the last eight at the Czechs’ expense. He lacks trust in his back four and seemingly is bereft of confidence which is surprising for a player as decorated as him. Poland tested him early on with a series of long-range shots, and he looked uncomfortable. In fact, he was shaky throughout the Group A decider and almost cost them late on but for Kadlec’s heroics. He will need to get back into his Chelsea frame of mind for the quarter-finals.
In all three of their games, Poland have started with a high tempo, but tellingly, have missed great opportunities to wrap up victories in the early stages. Within the first 15 minutes of Saturday night’s game, the co-hosts had squandered four decent chances and in a European championship must-win game, you simply cannot afford to do so. Dariusz Dudka’s acrobatic effort went wide before Lewandowski screwed a glorious chance off target, and Ludovic Obraniak and Eugen Polanski were also guilty of missing decent opportunities. They paid the ultimate price in the end, and on a stage as big as this one, you will be punished – so Poland only have themselves to blame. The biggest disappointment will have been Lewandoski – he has been so prolific for his club this season, but at times has been wasteful for his country. Ultimately, it cost them a place in the quarter-finals.
MORE: Man United latest news
MORE: Arsenal latest news
MORE: Chelsea latest news
MORE: Liverpool latest news