Czechs beat Poland 1-0 to advance to quarterfinals

All it took was one strike from Czech midfielder Petr Jiracek to

bring an end to the European Championship dreams of 40 million

Poles.

Jiracek scored with a stylish second-half strike to earn the

Czech Republic a 1-0 win over Poland, putting the Czechs through to

the quarterfinals and knocking out the co-host of Euro 2012.

With the victory, the Czechs finished top of Group A, and will

play the runner-up of Group B in the knockout stage in Warsaw next

week.

After withstanding a first-half barrage from Poland, the Czechs

pushed forward in the second half, looking for an opening. It came

on the counter in the 72nd minute, when Jiracek collected a pass

from Milan Baros in the box, cut right to clear past Poland’s

Marcin Wasilewski and slotted 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.

Poland coach Franciszek Smuda immediately brought on two

attacking players in the last 30 minutes to push for an equalizer,

but couldn’t punch through the Czech defense.

After the final whistle, the Czech players swarmed around each

other on the pitch, jumping and singing in front of the red-clad

Czech fans who filled one corner of the stadium. The Poles fell to

the ground, covering their faces.

”I think that probably we were too sure about winning this

game. The Czechs played excellent football,” Smuda said. ”We had

some opportunities before halftime, we didn’t take advantage of

them and we lost the game.”

Smuda said his contract as head of the national team runs

through Euro 2012, and he doesn’t expect it to be renewed.

”My adventure with the national team is ending,” he said.

The Czechs pulled off the win despite playing without their

captain and playmaker Tomas Rosicky, who was sidelined with an

Achilles tendon injury.

Without his creative skills the Czechs were listless in the

first half, struggling to put together any fluid passing and

reduced to knocking long balls forward.

The Poles, meanwhile, controlled the rhythm of play and created

a host of chances before the break.

Their best opportunity came in the 10th minute when captain

Jakub Blaszczykowski pounced on an errant pass deep in the Czech

half and fed the ball to Robert Lewandowski in the area, only for

the striker to slice his left-foot shot wide of the post.

But as the Poles pushed forward in the second half in search of

a goal to put them through to the quarterfinals, more space began

to open up in midfield.

That gave the Czechs the opportunity to strike on the counter,

and the punishment came with Jiracek’s second goal of the

tournament. He also scored in the Czechs’ 2-1 over Greece on

Tuesday.

Poland responded well, though, and the final chances were all

for the home team.

A cross from the right was deflected to the far post, where

Marcin Wasilewski met the ball with a header that just cleared the

bar. Minutes later, Blaszczykowski’s angled effort was cleared off

the line by Michal Kadlec as the Czechs sealed their place in the

last eight.

”In the first half we had some chances and didn’t take

advantage of them,” Blaszczykowski said. ”With the time passing,

we had to open up more and more, and I think this is the reason we

conceded a goal on the counter.”

The loss is a huge disappointment for Poland fans, who were

hoping for the country’s first ever victory at a European

Championship – and a place in the quarterfinals.

The country had rallied around the team since the tournament

opened on June 8, and their hopes had been boosted by the Poles’

solid performances in their first two Euro 2012 matches – drawing

1-1 with Greece and Russia.

But even with the raucous support of the capacity crowd of

41,000 at Wroclaw’s Municipal Stadium, the team failed to come

through, against a Czech side playing without its best player.

The Czechs, meanwhile, showed unexpected grit and resolve after

being crushed 4-1 by Russia in their tournament opener. They

recovered to beat Greece 2-1, and then did just enough to get past

Poland.

”I’m very happy that after the first match, when we didn’t do

very well, we were under pressure but won our remaining matches and

we showed everybody that we’re worth it,” Jiracek said.

Lineups:

Czech Republic: Petr Cech, Theodor Gebre Selassie, Tomas Sivok,

Michal Kadlec, David Limbersky, Tomas Hubschman, Jaroslav Plasil,

Petr Jiracek (Frantisek Rajtoral, 84), Daniel Kolar, Vaclav Pilar

(Jan Rezek, 88), Milan Baros (Tomas Pekhart, 90).

Poland: Przemyslaw Tyton, Sebastian Boenisch, Marcin Wasilewski,

Damien Perquis, Lukasz Piszczek, Dariusz Dudka, Eugen Polanski

(Kamil Grosicki, 56), Ludovic Obraniak (Pawel Brozek, 72), Rafal

Murawski (Adrian Mierzejewski, 73), Jakub Blaszczykowski, Robert

Lewandowski.