The Wolfsburg man provided a rare moment of class in a scrappy, hard-fought game, putting his side into the quarter-finals as Group A winnersPetr Jiracek broke Polish hearts in Wroclaw, netting the only goal of a tense Group A encounter to secure a 1-0 win and last-eight berth for Czech Republic.
The Wolfsburg midfielder was clinical in converting Milan Baros' pass 72 minutes into the game after Poland had been caught on the break and left wide open at the back. The Czechs held on to record all three points, and qualify along with Greece for the next stage.
With both sides needing a win to guarantee their place in the quarter-finals, the game started at a frantic pace with plenty of goalmouth action. Poland were the first team to go close, when Dariusz Dudka's improvised overhead kick flew into the side netting with the home crowd ready to celebrate the opener.
|Michal Bilek's men are on to the last eight after surviving the Group of Shocks|
It was all Poland at that point, with the Czech side struggling to string two passes together in the face of fierce pressing. An off-balance Robert Lewandowski should at least have hit the target with a shot that veered wide in a dangerous position, while Sebastian Boenisch forced another save from Cech with a decent long-range effort and Marcin Wasilewski directed a tame header into the Chelsea man's arms.
The Czechs' best chance of the first half fell to Milan Baros. The ex-Liverpool striker timed his run perfectly to spring the offside trap, but hesitated and could not control a decent lofted pass from deep as the danger passed. The tempo from both teams fell towards the end of the first 45 minutes, not helped by a fierce storm that passed over Wroclaw bringing with it a torrential downpour as the teams went in still level at half-time.
A Greece goal against Russia in first-half injury time left Group A on a knife-edge, with both Czech Republic and Poland facing elimination if the scores stayed the same at the final whistle. Michal Bilek's men probed early after the restart, but despite some decent possession around the opposition area could not find a way through the determined hosts' defence.
David Limbersky had a half chance to open the scoring as he powered into the box, but his shot could only find the side-netting once more as the game remained in an uneasy deadlock. The reticence of the Polish team to push forward, meanwhile, was baffling, as only a win would put the home side into the next round no matter how events in the other game finished. The home fans looked to Kamil Grosicki to make the difference, the Sivasspor winger entering just under 15 minutes into the second half in place of Eugen Polanski to add a new attacking dimension to the Polish team.
|MATCH FACTS | Czech Rep. 1-0 Poland
The change did not translate into extra potency in the final third, however, and numerous fouls from the hosts ruined their rhythm and handed their rivals the initiative. The Czechs had several chances from free kicks in dangerous areas, but failed to take advantage and net the goal that would take them into the next round. One of those dead-balls forced a reaction save from Przemyslaw Tyton, but the keeper was attentive and punched clear under heavy pressure.
Baros was the next man to test Tyton, who was more than comfortable in getting down to hold a speculative long-range shot. With 20 minutes left on the clock, however, it was the Czech Republic who took the advantage. A slick counter left Poland exposed at the back, and Baros slipped to Petr Jiracek who did well to turn onto his right foot and coolly hit past Tyton.
The goal was a mortal blow for Franciszek Smuda's men, who looked unable to recompose themselves and fight for a now unlikely victory. Baros momentarily thought he had sewn up the three points when he rounded Tyton, but the play was called back for a marginal offside and the Czechs stayed one goal up. The Polish fans sang their hearts out right to the end but, despite a near-miss for Wasilewski right at the death, their efforts were in vain as the hosts bade farewell to the competition.
The central European nation therefore finish top of Group A with six points. Poland, meanwhile lie bottom of the pile and crash out on home soil, having picked up just two points and failing to win in their fleeting Euro 2012 campaign.