Czechs beat Poland to make quarters
WROCLAW, Poland (AP):
Petr Jiracek scored a second-half winner to give the Czech Republic a 1-0 victory over Poland yesterday and a place in the quarter-finals of the European Championship.
Poland, the tournament co-hosts, were knocked out with their defeat in the team's final Group A game. The Czechs won the group and will play the runners-up in Group B.
Pushing forward in the 72nd minute, Jiracek collected a pass from Milan Baros in the box, cut right 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, which had to win to advance, immediately brought on two attacking players in the last 30 minutes to push for a goal, but struggled to create any serious threat.
After the final whistle, the Czech players swarmed each other on the pitch. 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,'' Poland coach Franciszek Smuda said. ''We had some opportunities before half-time, we didn't take advantage of them and we lost the game.''
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. But as the Poles pushed forward in the second half in search of a goal to put them through to the quarter-finals, more space began to open up in midfield.
That space gave the Czechs the opportunity to strike on the counter and the punishment came with Jiracek's second goal of the tournament. He also opened the scoring in a 2-1 victory over Greece.
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 crossbar. Minutes later, Jakub Blaszczykowski's angled effort was cleared off the line by Michal Kadlec as the Czechs sealed their place in the last eight.