Czech newcomers Jiracek, Pilar save team again
Two Czech midfielders know what it means to strike at the right time.
After a demoralizing start to the European Championship, the two rising stars of Czech football - Petr Jiracek and Vaclav Pilar - became saviors for their team and not for the first time.
They struck early in a 2-1 victory over Greece in Group A to keep the team in contention for the quarterfinals after a 4-1 loss to Russia.
Jiracek collected a superb through pass from Tomas Hubschman three minutes into the match at Wroclaw's Municipal Stadium before adding a clinical finish for his second international goal.
''I just needed to control the ball after a wonderful pass from Tomas and had just the goalkeeper (Costas Chalkias) to beat,'' Jiracek said. ''I needed such a goal and I'm happy it came and helped the team succeed.''
Pilar, known as the ''Czech Messi'' added the second just three minutes later from close range despite having two markers on him for his second goal of the tournament. Pilar beat both Greek defenders to a ball sent across the goal by defender Theodor Gebre Selassie.
''I went in very hard in to meet the cross and got to the ball with my knee,'' Pilar said. ''I tried hard and it paid off. This was a big goal for me.''
In fact, the two midfielders had already made an impact before the tournament.
The Czechs were struggling in qualifying when the 26-year-old Jiracek and the 23-year-old Pilar came in to rejuvenate a team weakened by the absence of retired stars such as Pavel Nedved, Karel Poborsky and Vladimir Smicer.
Their creativity helped increase the Czech attacking force in the crucial 4-1 victory at Lithuania, a result that secured a playoff spot for the team.
In the first leg of the playoffs against Montenegro last November, Pilar found the net from 20 meters, setting his side on its way to a 2-0 win.
Jiracek scored the only goal of the second leg after bursting past two Montenegrin defenders and scoring with a low shot to maintain a record of reaching every Euro since Czechoslovakia split in 1993.
Last year, the two midfielders were club teammates in Czech champion Viktoria Plzen's first Champions League campaign. The team finished third behind European powerhouses Barcelona and AC Milan in the group stage and earned a spot in the Europa League. Their performances didn't go unnoticed.
Besides earning regular spots in the national team, Bundesliga club Wolfsburg signed Jiracek in December to a contract until 2016 and Pilar is expected to follow him after this tournament.
When the two play with captain Tomas Rosicky, the Czech midfield are once again a force to be reckoned with.
The Czechs face Poland on Saturday in their final match in Group A.
''I'm happy to score two goals,'' Pilar said. ''Now we have a chance to advance.''