The Czech Republic took a big step toward qualifying for its fifth straight European Championship by beating Montenegro 2-0 on Friday in the first leg of their playoffs for a spot at next year’s tournament in Poland and Ukraine.
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Vaclav Pilar opened the scoring after collecting a smart through pass from captain Tomas Rosicky in the 63rd minute before firing a right-foot shot from 20 meters that gave goalkeeper Mladen Bozovic no chance to save.
It was the first international goal for the 23-year-old Viktoria Plzen midfielder in his fifth match for his country.
Tomas Sivok headed in his third in the national jersey in injury time from Rosicky’s free kick.
”I’m glad for the win,” Pilar said. ”That’s what we wanted to achieve. We scored twice and what’s important, we didn’t concede a goal.”
The second leg is scheduled for Tuesday in Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro.
”It’s just halftime,” Czech coach Michal Bilek warned. ”I’m satisfied with our performance but we have to repeat it again.”
The Czechs hope to maintain a record of reaching every European Championship since Czechoslovakia split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993
Montenegro, seeking to qualify for its first Euros since independence in 2006, held England to a 0-0 draw at Wembley in qualifying but was under pressure throughout and failed to create a surprise this time.
”We didn’t play (like) we wanted to,” Montenegro coach Branko Brnovic said. ”We still have one more chance. It will be tough because we need to win by three goals. But I remain an optimist”
The Czechs failed to capitalize on its first-half dominance with Petr Jiracek wasting a clear chance to put the host ahead in the 34th minute. Rosicky showed his playmaking qualities, starting a fluent move in the middle of the field before passing for Tomas Pekhart.
Pekhart then headed the ball to Jiracek, who had only goalkeeper Mladen Bozovic to beat from 10 meters.
Jaroslav Plasil then tested the Montenegro ‘keeper with a low long-range drive after the Montenegro defense failed to clear Rosicky’s free kick.
Striker Jan Rezek just missed the target from close range after Theodor Gebre Selassie broke down the right
At the other end, Savo Pavicevic crossed for Mirko Vucinic to fire a volley just over the bar in the 16th as the visitors tried to surprise the Czechs with fast counterattacks.
As the Czechs mounted pressure, Daniel Pudil and Rosicky had their consecutive shots blocked in the 30th as the Montenegro defense held firm.
One minute into the second half, Czech goalkeeper Petr Cech made a diving save to deny Dejan Damjanovic and then palmed away Simon Vukcevic’s curling shot a minute later as the visitors went on attack after the break.
Cech, who already wears a head guard, wore a protective mask as well after he had his nose broken in Saturday’s 1-0 win over Blackburn in the Premier League. He was cleared to play a day before the match at the Sparta Prague stadium
”It was something different for me,” Cech said. ”It was not absolutely perfect but I was satisfied with the mask. … It’s an excellent point of departure for us. It’s not over yet but I hope we’ll succeed.”
”Petr showed what he is capable of,” Bilek said. ”He superbly solved the dangerous chances.”
In the 70th minute, Sivok had his close-range header blocked.
Peckhart failed to exploit a blunder from Bozovic 10 minutes before the end, when the goalkeeper kicked the ball straight at his head, leaving him with an empty goal. The Nuremberg striker again failed to score from close range in the final minute.
Czech Republic: Petr Cech, Theodor Gebre Selassie, Michal Kadlec, Tomas Sivok, Daniel Pudil, Jan Rezek (Zdenek Pospech, 81), Tomas Rosicky, Jaroslav Plasil, Petr Jiracek, Vaclav Pilar (Daniel Kolar, 90), Tomas Pekhart (David Lafata, 90).
Montenegro: Mladen Bozovic, Savo Pavicevic, Miodrag Dzudovic, Stefan Savic, Milan Jovanovic, Milorad Pekovic (Elsad Zverotic, 80), Nikola Drincic, Dejan Damjanovic (Vladimir Bozovic, 61), Simon Vukcevic (Andrija Delibasic, 89), Stevan Jovetic, Mirko Vucinic.