Petr Jiracek has gone a long way since moving up from the Czech second division four years ago — his goal against Poland on Saturday paving the way to the Euro 2012 quarter-finals for the Czech Republic.
In the 72nd minute, Jiracek took the ball from striker Milan Baros, fooled Poland defender Marcin Wasilewski, then sent in a low shot under a diving ’keeper Przemyslaw Tyton to hand the Czechs a 1-0 victory.
Just minutes later, Jiracek blocked a long-range shot from Lukasz Piszczek with his face — demonstrating his other valued quality, a willingness to sacrifice himself for the team.
“I don’t know what to say, I’m terribly happy we made this result and reached the quarter-finals,” Jiracek said after the game. “Maybe I’ll be able to talk in an hour.”
The 26-year-old long-haired midfielder with three goals in 11 games for the national team made his international debut against Scotland last September after helping Viktoria Plzen lift the Czech league trophy in 2011.
Last autumn, he faced Barcelona, AC Milan and BATE Borisov in Plzen's baptism of fire in the Champions League.
Agents were quick to home in on the hard-working Jiracek, who moved to Bundesliga side Wolfsburg on a 4.5-year deal in the winter.
Before that, he had won over Czech fans with a daring run topped off with a goal against Montenegro in the Euro 2012 playoffs that handed the team a 1-0 win, sealing a finals berth for them after a 2-0 win at home in the first leg.
A copycat goal by Jiracek against Greece then lifted Czech hopes that had been all but crushed by a 4-1 humiliation from Russia in their Euro opener. Against Greece, Jiracek struck with the fourth fastest goal of Euro history.
Jiracek’s physical style has earned him comparisons with former Czech Republic and Juventus star Pavel Nedved, the 2003 Golden Ball winner, who won a silver medal at Euro 1996 to put an early shine on his international career.