Greece 1 Czech Republic 2: Lessons from a Group A match-up
What did we learn from the Czech Republic's 2-1 victory over 2004 champions Greece in their Group A clash on Tuesday?
Czech Republic keep Euro 2012 dreams alive
Czech Republic have a relatively decent record at European championships in recent seasons, particularly in 2004, when Milan Baros and Jan Koller combined so effectively in attack. The pair were instrumental in a 3-2 victory over the Netherlands, and a 2-1 win against Germany, before finally exiting at the semi-final stage to eventual winners Greece. The current Czech side still contains Baros, but is missing illustrious names such as Pavel Nedved, Karel Poborsky, and Koller. Michal Bilek’s side were thrashed 4-1 by Russia in their opening Group A game, rendering their match-up against Greece as must-win. The Czech’s made a superb start in the second minute when Tomas Hubschman managed to tease a delightful through-ball into Petr Jiracek, who produced a composed finish. Moments later, Bilek’s men doubled their lead when Theodor Gebre Selassie’s low cross was turned into the net by Vaclav Pilar. The Czech Republic can take heart from past triumphs in the face of adversity after they still managed to progress from the group stages at Euro 1996 despite losing their opening game to Germany – they went on to lose to the same opposition in the final at Wembley.
Cech’s Euro nightmare continues on 92nd cap
Petr Cech won his 92nd cap against Greece, moving the Chelsea goalkeeper into second position ahead of Nedved and Koller in the Czech Republic’s list of all-time appearance makers, with only Poborsky earning more – 118. However, the 30-year-old has endured mixed fortunes on the international stage. At Euro 2008, the Czechs were coasting into the last-eight when three Turkey goals in the final five minutes dumped Cech and his country out of the competition. The former Rennes goalkeeper let a cross to slip through his hands, leaving Nihat to equalise. Memories of this game will have flooded back to Cech, who conceded four in their opening fixture, as his mistake allowed Greece to halve the Czech Republic’s lead in the 53rd minute. The Chelsea shot-stopper, under no pressure, fumbled a straightforward cross, which allowed Fanis Gekas to score Greece’s only goal of the game.
Greece left to rue defensive errors
Giorgios Karagounis is one of three survivors in the Greece squad from their Euro 2004 triumph; the other members are Kostas Katsouranis and Kostas Chalkias. The talismanic Greek captain will remember how Otto Rehhagel built their success on a ruthless defence – they conceded just four goals on their way to beating Portugal in the final. Manager Fernando Santos, led his side to an unbeaten qualifying campaign for the first time but changes in their back four took their toll against the Czech Republic. Hubschman’s through ball carved open the Greek defence for the first goal, before Pilar squeezed past two defenders to bundle a cross into the vacated net. Santos’ side improved after their initial lapse, but a two-goal margin proved insurmountable for a Greek side that lacks any real threat in attack. As the Republic of Ireland were cruelly reminded in their 3-1 defeat by Croatia, embracing a defensive mantra at a major tournament can work – Greece’s success at Euro 2004 proves that – but there can ill afford to be any dips in concentration or silly errors in the back four.
Baros and Samaras epitomise their nations’ goal struggles
Baros will be remembered fondly by Liverpool supporters for his part in their memorable Champions League run and eventual triumph in 2005. But the 30-year-old struggled to become the clinical goal scorer the Anfield crowd so craved during a five-year spell on Merseyside. The Galatasaray striker was disappointing against Greece, perhaps lacking fitness, and he missed a series of simple chances, while offering little else to the Czech Republic in terms of interplay. Baros will struggle to match his exploits of Euro 2004 – the former Reds striker won the Golden Boot after five goals in their run to the last-four. Meanwhile, Giorgos Samaras, who has scored a paltry seven goals in 56 appearances for Greece, was similarly lacklustre against an opposition defence that was ruthlessly exposed by Russia last Friday. The 27-year-old Celtic striker lumbered across the defensive line, and he was dispossessed too easily. The performances of Samaras and Baros were an indication to why these two teams were the lowest scorers in qualifying for Euro 2012 – the Greeks managed 14 goals in 10 games, while the Czech Republic scored just 12 times in eight ties.