Jiracek saves the Czechs again

When it comes to saving the Czech Republic at the European

Championship, midfielder Petr Jiracek is emerging on the Czech team

as the man to beat.

In the absence of injured captain Tomas Rosicky, the 26-year-old

playmaker battled tirelessly in midfield and scored the decisive

winner in a 1-0 victory over Poland that fired the Czech Republic

to the European Championship quarterfinals for the first time since

2004 after the team won Group A with six points.

”To advance in first place is fantastic,” Jiracek said.

The team was struggling in the first half without its usual

playmaker Rosicky.

It’s been a fantastic year for Jiracek. Last year he was noticed

while playing in the Champions League for his Czech club side

Viktoria Plzen, losing out in the group stage to Barcelona and AC

Milan. He soon found himself signed by Bundesliga club Wolfsburg in

December and playing regularly for the national team.

After suffering a demoralizing 4-1 loss to Russia in the

tournament’s opener, The Czechs returned with a 2-1 win over

Greece

With Greece beating Russia 1-0 on Saturday, the Czechs needed a

win to advance and Jiracek made it possible with his second goal of

the tournament.

It came from a quick counterattack in the 72nd minute, when he

collected a pass from Milan Baros in the box, cut right to pass

Poland’s Marcin Wasilewski and right-footed the ball inside the far

post.

”We had a poor start but we gradually improved, started to

create chances and finally, we deserved to score,” Jiracek said.

”We all worked hard, everyone played. I’m glad we came back and

showed the strength of the team. I’m really proud that we came back

after the loss to Russia and responded to criticism with two

wins.”

Before receiving the ball, he had run across the field to be in

the right place to strike.

”I was already totally exhausted,” Jiracek said. ”But we’re

at the European Championship and I said to myself that I may never

get another chance like this. Everything was at stake. We just all

played at 120 percent.”

Jiracek was substituted in the 84th minute by Frantisek

Rajtoral, several minutes after a swerving drive by Lukasz Piszczek

hit him in the head and he had to be treated by team doctors.

The team was struggling at the first half without its usual

playmaker Rosicky.

”Tomas is essential for us,” Jiracek said. ”We’re all calm

when he’s on the field. ”Without him, we all knew we have to play

better than usual and that’s what we did.

If Rosicky recovers for the quarterfinals at Warsaw and joins

Jiracek in midfield, the Czechs will have a creative force that

might be good enough to successfully replace retired stars such as

Pavel Nedved, Karel Poborsky and Vladimir Smicer.