Czech Republic rode a stunning double strike in the early minutes to edge out 2004 champions Greece 2-1 and bounce back in Group A on Tuesday, after being hammered into submission by Russia in their opening game.
Thrashed 4-1 by group favourites Russia, the Czechs could not have even dreamt of the kind of start they had, taking a 2-0 lead very early. Greece, who had held co-hosts Poland 1-1, pulled one back with a fortuitous strike in the 53rd minute, but are in danger of elimination.
The Czechs were ahead inside three minutes. Tomas Hubschman threaded a brilliant through pass to the top of the box and Petr Jiracek shook off a defender and his left-footed shot deflected in off goalkeeper Kostas Chalkias’ hand.
The Greeks were very shaky in defence at the start, looking clearly rattled by the pace of the Czech attack, but few still expected them to be clumsy when defender Theo Gabre-Selassie darted down the right of the penalty box and pulled back a diagonal ball across the face of the goal.
Again, the goalkeeper could only get a touch and Pilar, hemmed in by two defenders, somehow bundled the ball in with his knee from about six yards.
The Czechs, who lost to Greece in the semifinals of the 2004 editions, held a clear edge with Rosicky, Jiracek and Pilar repeatedly over-running Greece in the midfield with Gabre-Selassie’s overlapping runs adding to the problems.
It only worsened after Greece goalkeeper Chalkias was forced off in the 23rd minute due to what appeared a muscle injury, and was replaced by Michail Sifakis.
However, Greece gradually recovered their poise and settled down in the midfield, resorting to a robust game to keep the Czechs in check. Although the Czechs looked strangely subdued in the face of determined attacks in the second half, Greece were still lucky to score in the 53rd minute after a dreadful mistake by Chelsea ’keeper Petr Cech.
A hopeful through ball from the left was angled in but Cech failed to collect and mildly collided with defender Tomas Sivok, allowing the ball to roll kindly to substitute Gekas, who simply turn it home.
Greece kept the Czechs under pressure in the final quarter with many ambitious lobs into the box but the Czech, knowing even a draw would dash their hopes, defended in numbers to pull off the victory.