Euro 2012 co-hosts Poland went into their final Group A clash against Czech Republic knowing that they needed to win if they were to have any chance of progressing to the quarter-finals. Unfortunately, it was not to be and a 1-0 victory leaves them exiting their own party early.
Petr Jiracek’s goal proved crucial for Czech Republic as they progressed to the quarter-finals of Euro 2012 as Group A winners despite having been thrashed 4-1 by Russia in their opening fixture. Here, we look at the main talking points from a dramatic and tense evening in Wroclaw.
Czech’s extra gear
The Czech Republic’s place in the tournament looked under threat in the first half, as Poland threw caution to the wind to try and secure the win they needed to qualify for the quarter-finals. But news of the Greece goal in Warsaw appeared to remove the shackles from Michal Bilek’s men, as they stepped up a gear with ease in the second half. It proves that sometimes simply needing a point can be more of a curse than a blessing, as the Czechs were obviously torn between trying to win the game, whilst being reluctant to leave themselves exposed without a real need. They should be thankful then, that it wasn’t later into the night when Greece scored their winner.
It is undoubted that the presence of the host nation in the latter stages of a tournament can create a better atmosphere. You only have to look at the fervour created by South Korea in World Cup 2002 and England’s progression at Euro 96. The loss of the Poles from Euro 2012 will certainly detract from the carnival atmosphere that has been created at the fan parks in the Polish cities, and reduce the chances of an underdog prevailing on a tidal wave of local support. The excited atmosphere of anticipation, especially the one created in their opening game against Greece in Warsaw, will live long in the memory – as will the roar that accompanied Lewandowski’s opening goal. And it’s a shame that the Poland bandwagon couldn’t have rolled on for another few days.
Czechs bounce back
The Czech Republic showed that they had learned from a harsh lesson handed out by Russia in the first game, where they had gone for broke only to be repeatedly hit on the break. Against Poland they sat back at first, knowing their hosts had to go for the win but once Greece went ahead they changed gear and went for the jugular. They kept the pressure up until Poland could take no more, allowing Petr Jiracek the chance that he did not pass up.
Keeping your nerve
The pressure got to Poland, who had the upper hand early on but did not show the composure needed when chances came their way in the first half. After the break, it was one-way traffic for much of the time, with the Czechs looking comfortable after grabbing the lead. Then in the dying seconds the Czechs stood up at the crucial moment, Jakub Blaszczykowski’s shot looking to be going in until Michal Kadlec’s brilliant off-the-line header.
Robert Lewandowski is being linked heavily with a move to the Premier League this summer, but have his performances at Euro 2012 bolstered his value or made potential suitors think twice? Undoubtedly in the Polish team he is a big fish in a relatively small pond and often has to make do with scraps to feed off, as opposed to the plethora of chances he would undoubtedly get at somewhere like Manchester United. So it’s unlikely that those reported to be chasing him would have changed their opinion in the past eight days. His physique looks well suited to the Premier League as his height and deceptive strength would make him a good target man who wouldn’t be pushed off the ball. But he may be disappointed that he has not been able to have the impact at the tournament that could have raised his stock.
Questions were being asked of the Chelsea goalkeeper after an uncharacteristic error in the 2-1 victory over Greece and the statistics showed that the Czech Republic goalkeeper had conceded five goals from six shots on target prior to their final Group A contest. But Cech recorded a welcome clean sheet against co-hosts Poland to help his side through to the quarter-finals as group winners, although in truth he had very little to do in the second half as the co-hosts offered very little as an attacking threat.
Showing their colours
Poland were clearly riled by the giant ‘This is Russia’ flag which invaded the National Stadium in Warsaw during their earlier meeting and decided to respond with a version of their own for the Group A finale against Czech Republic. The Wroclaw version was significantly less inflammatory than the one sported by their rivals, but unfortunately was unable to inspire their side to success. One question: How do the fans get it into the stadium?