Czech Republic 2-1 Greece
After their humbling at the hands of Russia, the Czech Republic were in desperate need of a win against a Greek side that came from behind to gain an opening day point against co-hosts Poland. They made harder work of it than the early minutes suggested but eventually prospered, pulling through with a 2-1 victory.
The second half of their game with Russia saw the Czech Republic introduce a vital player, Tomas Hubschman. Whilst the Czech’s proceeded to concede a further 2 goals, the added protection Hubschman offered the back 4 was evident and had they not been pushing forward in a hunt for goals, the change may have had a better effect. Against Greece, Bilek understandably elected to start Hubschman in front of a changed back 4 that saw Limbersky brought in on the left and Kadlec shifted to a centre back.
Weakened Greek defence exploited
The importance of a consistent defensive unit has been shown time and again this season throughout the world of football, so, in missing their 2 preferred centre backs through injury and suspension, the largely defensive Greek side must have been fearful from the outset. Within minutes of kick off this unfamiliarity was exposed; Hubschman threading a delightful through-ball between Holebas and Katsouranis on the left side of the Greek defence, the charging figure of Jiracek meeting it and finishing low to give the Czech’s an early advantage. This same weakness was exposed again minutes later, this time Rosicky playing the defence splitting ball and Pilar bundling home Gebre Selassie’s cut back.
One notable feature of the first half was the way that the Czech fullbacks were able to link up with the attack. Limbersky tended to drift inside as he moved forward, creating space for Pilar out left. On the right, working the opposite way around, Jiracek moved further in allowing Gebre Selassie to push on into the space out wide. It was one such a run from Gebre Selassie that created that second goal. Selassie has to go down as one of the stand out performers in the match, exhibiting great footwork a number of times in exchanges out on that right side as well as threatening with those lung busting runs.
Half time switch up
Trailing by 2 goals having had just a single effort themselves, a certain level of despondency may have been expected in the Greek dressing room at half time, though perhaps the same could have been said at half time in the Poland game going in a goal and a man down. Santos’ smart sub Salpingidis turned that game around and this time he brought on Gekas for Fotakis. This meant Fortounis and Salpingidis dropped deeper into wide midfield roles and Gekas joined the attack. The change clearly worked as within minutes Greece were the force pushing forward and a poor bumbling cross caused a mix up between Cech and Sivok which resulted in Gekas tapping in a simple chance to bring the score back to 1-1.
After Greece pulled the goal back there was always an air of uncertainty about the Czech side, a standoff attitude in midfield invited pressure on their goal but the Greeks lacked the quality in their creative play to really threaten. Against stronger opposition, it must be said, the Czech’s would most likely have been punished.
Where does this leave the group?
Bottom of the group and needing a win against Russia, it’s hard to see a way out for Greece. The Czechs however, buoyed by this result, are back in contention, they’ll be praying for the fitness of captain Rosicky whose absence in the second half was abundantly clear. Their Saturday match in Wroclaw looks to be a 2nd place decider between themselves and Poland, they’ll only a need a draw to progress but as underdogs will hope the pressure can get to co-hosts as it did on the opening day.