A few thoughts from Czech Republic’s 2-1 victory over Greece:
What it means: Shorn of its two first-choice center backs, the vaunted Greek defense crumbled early against a grateful Czech team that strengthened its hand in an open Group A. Its final group game against Poland should be winner-take-all.
The game was billed as a do-or-die affair for the Czechs. Their coach, Michal Bilek, had assured the media that his team would not panic, and it took only two minutes for Petr Jiracek to pick up on an exquisite through ball from Tomas Hubschman and finish with his left foot. The lead was doubled four minutes later, as Vaclav Pilar bundled the ball home from a Theo Gebre-Selassie cross. So dominant were the Czechs that they were able to remove their most influential player, Tomas Rosicky, for precautionary reasons at halftime. He had enjoyed the most touches (40) and touches in the attacking third (16) of any player to that point.
Down 2-0, Greece had its back against the wall. Against Poland, that situation brought out the Greeks' pugnacious best. But on Tuesday, they appeared unsure of how to respond. Whether they tried to impose a passing game or resort to the long ball, the Czechs were able to stifle them. Keeper Petr Cech gave Greece a lifeline, fumbling the ball while colliding with Czech defender Tomas Sivok. Greek legend Fanis Gekas rolled it into the open net. But Greece was not able to muster another clear-cut chance even after throwing on strikers to play a Hail Mary 4-2-4 formation. The best thing that could be said about its performance was it advanced the cause for beards in football. Brace yourself for a hundred puns about Greek deficits, gifts and lack of Euros.
Czech homework pays off
Poland took 17 minutes to breach the Greek defense via the left side of its defense. The Czechs targeted that weak point, and the return was immediate. Both goals had their origins in that area.
Czech midfield inventive and imposing in the first half, but not in the second
Hubschman, Jiracek and Rosicky controlled the game in the first half. Their movement and invention ran the Greeks ragged. But in the second half, with Rosicky removed, Jiracek was forced to drop deep and cover his back four, which blunted the Czech threat and allowed the Greeks to play the game in their opponents’ half.
Cech: Dodgy Euro keeper?
Cech’s fumbling assist on the Greek goal gave his team cause for concern. This was the 15th goal he has conceded at the Euros. Only Denmark’s Peter Schmeichel has conceded more. Cech’s fumble was eerily reminiscent of one he made against Turkey in 2008 that secured the Czechs' elimination, 3-2, after they had thrown away a two-goal lead.
Group A will be decided on Saturday. Greece faces the steepest test, a game against Russia in Warsaw. The Czechs may face a winner-take-all showdown with co-host Poland in Wroclaw. Both games will be played simultaneously.
Roger Bennett is a contributing writer for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com.